David Strat­ton rates Cate Blanchett in Blue Jas­mine

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents -

THERE was a time when ev­ery Woody Allen movie was set in New York. Man­hat­tan (1979) is one of the most poignant love let­ters ever ded­i­cated to the city Allen loves so much — you had the im­pres­sion that his creative juices needed that Big Ap­ple adrenalin, and when he shot scenes in Los An­ge­les (as he did in An­nie Hall, 1977), they con­tained a New Yorker’s dis­dain for the per­ceived shal­low­ness and lack of cul­ture in the home of Hol­ly­wood.

Re­cently he’s been prised away from his beloved New York and — with fi­nan­cial sup­port from Euro­pean govern­ment fund­ing bod­ies — has made films in Lon­don, Paris, Rome and Barcelona, with gen­er­ally mixed re­sults. Midnight in Paris (2011) was a suc­cess with most crit­ics and with au­di­ences, but To Rome with Love (2012) was a sig­nif­i­cant dis­ap­point­ment, sug­gest­ing that one of the finest Amer­i­can film­mak­ers of his gen­er­a­tion was los­ing his touch.

Blue Jas­mine is a tri­umphant re­turn to form, and also a re­turn to Allen’s cin­e­matic be­gin­nings. Play It Again, Sam (1972), which he scripted from his own play and which Her­bert Ross di­rected, and his first fea­ture as writer-di­rec­tor, Take the Money and Run (1969), were both set in San Fran­cisco and the new film also takes place there, with flash­back scenes set in New York.

Blue Jas­mine isn’t a com­edy, al­though there are some amus­ing mo­ments. Much has been said and writ­ten about the plot’s sim­i­lar­i­ties to Ten­nessee Wil­liams’s cel­e­brated play A Street­car Named De­sire, in which Cate Blanchett was a mem­o­rable Blanche DuBois in the re­cent Syd­ney Theatre Com­pany pro­duc­tion, which was pre­sented in New York for a limited run. I should has­ten to point out this is not a case of steal­ing from Wil­liams, any more than Match Point (2005) stole from Theodore Dreiser’s An Amer­i­can Tragedy, though in both cases there are some sim­i­lar­i­ties. There seems lit­tle doubt that Allen was in­spired to give the prodi­giously tal­ented Blanchett the op­por­tu­nity to play a char­ac­ter some­what sim­i­lar to that of Blanche with­out sim­ply mak­ing an­other film of the play.

We meet Jas­mine as she flies first-class across Amer­ica, talk­ing nine­teen to the dozen to the stranger sit­ting next to her (Joy Car­lin). Her birth name is Jeanette, but she prefers Jas­mine be­cause it sounds more dis­tin­guished. And she’s fly­ing first-class, even though she’s com­pletely broke, be­cause that’s the way she be­came used to do­ing ev­ery­thing when she was mar­ried to Hal (Alec Bald­win), an ap­par­ently wealthy busi­ness­man who gave her ev­ery­thing she wanted: an apart­ment in Man­hat­tan, a week­ender in the Hamp­tons by the sea, jewellery, com­fort, en­try into the New York so­cial set.

We see her life with Hal in flash­backs that are in­serted from time to time dur­ing the film. It was a life of priv­i­lege, a pam­pered, lazy, un­pro­duc­tive life, and Jas­mine had whole­heart­edly em­braced it while turn­ing a blind eye to what all her friends seem to have known: that Hal was chron­i­cally un­faith­ful. Not only that, but his busi­ness deals were shady to say the least. He even conned Jas­mine’s sis­ter, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), who made a rare visit to New York with her hus­band Augie (An­drew Dice Clay) af­ter a $200,000 lot­tery win, out of her win­nings.

It’s dur­ing Ginger and Augie’s visit that we re­alise what a snob Jas­mine is; she de­spises Augie — a big-hearted, gen­er­ous man — for his work­ing-class ori­gins, she’s an­noyed they’ve come to visit be­cause they threaten to dis­rupt her so­cial sched­ule, and she won’t have them stay in the apart­ment (Hal pays for their ho­tel room).

De­spite her at­ti­tude to­wards her sis­ter, it’s to Ginger that Jas­mine turns in this time of emer­gency. Her mar­riage is over, her life of lux­ury has ended abruptly, she’s broke (mak­ing that first-class ticket just one more stupid in­dul­gence). They’re not re­ally sis­ters; both were adopted and came from dif­fer­ent birth mothers, so they have al­most noth­ing in com­mon. Ginger is far more down-to-earth and prac­ti­cal; her mar­riage to Augie ended af­ter they lost all their money, and she lives with her two sons in a some­what shabby apart­ment. Jas­mine can hardly con­ceal her dis­dain for Ginger’s life­style or her dis­ap­proval of Chili (Bobby Can­navale), the good-na­tured but def­i­nitely lower-class guy she’s dat­ing. Chili is up­set by Jas­mine’s ar­rival be­cause her pres­ence is de­lay­ing the day when he moves into Ginger’s apart­ment — the two loathe one an­other at first sight.

You can see here the links to Street­car: the sis­ters, the loss of a for­mer life­style of wealth and po­si­tion, the Stan­ley Kowal­ski-like char­ac­ter of Chili. There are other links, too, when Jas­mine meets a new man — dap­per Peter Sars­gaard — and thinks her trou­bles may be over. In the mean­time, though, she needs work and — in des­per­a­tion — takes a po­si­tion as re­cep­tion­ist to a den­tist (Michael Stuhlbarg) who can’t keep his mind on his pa­tients.

Like Street­car, Blue Jas­mine is es­sen­tially the study of a delu­sional woman who makes all the wrong choices in life. Blanchett doesn’t sim­ply por­tray Jas­mine, she in­hab­its the role and makes it en­tirely her own. Allen has of­ten writ­ten and di­rected great roles for ac­tresses, and this is yet an­other; Os­car spec­u­la­tion is al­ready rife and it would be sur­pris­ing if Blanchett were not nom­i­nated for best ac­tress. Nor would it be sur­pris­ing if Bri­tish ac­tress Sally Hawkins re­ceived a best sup­port­ing ac­tress nod for her stel­lar per­for­mance as Ginger. It’s in­ter­est­ing that th­ese two nonAmer­i­cans are so ut­terly con­vinc­ing play­ing Amer­i­can char­ac­ters.

There are im­pres­sive per­for­mances among the male ac­tors as well. Mak­ing his third film with Allen, Bald­win is con­vinc­ingly sleazy as the wom­an­is­ing, cor­rupt wheeler-dealer. Co­me­di­ans Dice Clay, as the good-hearted Augie, and Louis CK, as a man at­tracted to Ginger, also give strong dra­matic per­for­mances, and Can­navale makes Chili sur­pris­ingly sym­pa­thetic.

Blue Jas­mine is also no­table for its look. It marks only the third time in his long ca­reer that Allen has used the Scope ra­tio (he used it for the black-and-white world of Man­hat­tan and for one of his worst films, Any­thing Else, in 2003) and the widescreen ra­tio gives the film a spa­cious­ness that ben­e­fits the in­te­ri­ors of the apart­ments Jas­mine in­hab­its, from New York lux­ury to San Fran­cisco drab­ness — the de­sign of Allen reg­u­lar Santo Lo­quasto is con­sis­tently im­pres­sive.

As poor Jas­mine con­tin­ues on a path of self­de­struc­tion lu­bri­cated by too much al­co­hol and in­take of Xanax, talk­ing to any­one who will lis­ten and to her­self if there’s no one else around, there’s fur­ther con­fir­ma­tion that Allen, at his best, is a mas­ter ob­server of the hu­man con­di­tion.

There are a few bleakly amus­ing mo­ments in the film — the preview au­di­ence found it fun­nier than I did, per­haps be­cause it was a Woody Allen film — but by the end the over­all im­pres­sion is of a tragedy of a fool­ish woman. Jas­mine isn’t a bad woman, but she has a num­ber of very du­bi­ous char­ac­ter­is­tics — her snob­bish­ness for one; still, she doesn’t de­serve the cards that fate has dealt her, and Allen and Blanchett suc­ceed tri­umphantly in mak­ing you care for her, de­spite her con­sid­er­able flaws.

Blue Jas­mine,

Cate Blanchett as pam­pered so­cialite Jas­mine in above; and, top, with Alec Bald­win as her shady, schem­ing hus­band, Hal

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.