Thursday, August 1, 2013

Blue Jasmine review

It's movies like these that make me seriously contemplate why I use a grading system at all when I write reviews. Who cares what the "score" of a movie is? Do you, really? I always thought it was a nice way to sum everything up, but the grade I give a movie doesn't always reflect how I feel about it emotionally. Sometimes I can acknowledge a film's flaws and still love it, despite the flaws. Still, I'd be remiss not to mention such flaws. A movie like "Blue Jasmine" is an interesting case study for that matter. This is Woody Allen's latest film, which finds him in late-period peak form. It started with the commercial and critical success of "Midnight In Paris," continued with the uneven but very fun "To Rome With Love," and now he's given us something more contemplative and deeper than those last two films.

The film also gives us an ace performance from, perhaps, the greatest actress working today NOT named Meryl Streep: Cate Blanchett. "Blue Jasmine" contains solid performances all around, most notably Andrew Dice Clay's shockingly layered and measured performance as Augie, Jasmine's former brother-in-law. He rounds out a solid cast that includes Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale, and Louis CK. But, it's Blanchett who is the real star of this show. You know how, in a lot of movies, you always hear about an actor, playing a smaller part in a movie, stealing the show? Well, no one steals the show from Cate Blanchett here. I've never quite seen such a dominating lead performance from a fiction-based character, perhaps since Daniel Day-Lewis in "There Will Be Blood." Woody Allen is known for letting his actors go anywhere they want with their roles, letting them own it for themselves. Cate Blanchett brings a powerhouse, Daniel Day-Lewis-esque performance to this film. She's so utterly in character, this character who is almost always on the verge of complete nervous breakdown, it almost makes you feel uncomfortable.

She plays Jasmine. A 40-something woman who went through a very difficult marriage to a philandering wealthy man (Baldwin) who wound up losing all his money after getting caught by the Feds, having used his money for illegal activity. Her husband winds up hanging himself in jail and now she's left to her own devices. Heartbroken, distraught, not knowing what to do, she visits her sister in San Francisco (played by Sally Hawkins). Her sister, Ginger, goes after the more blue-collar type of men. She went through a rough divorce with the aforementioned Augie and is now seeing a guy with a similar personality (Cannavale). Jasmine openly disapproves of her sister's taste in men, and pretty soon, Jasmine's nasty personality coupled with her mental problems, will drive a wedge between the two sisters.

Jasmine is utterly lost. She spent close to half of her life living in this fantasy land with her extraordinarily rich husband and now here she is, a broken shell of herself, not realizing that most people live like Ginger and not like her. In present day, she decides she finally wants to continue her education, but she doesn't even know how to work a computer. "I'm trying to take classes on how to use a computer" is something you'd hear somebody say in... 1998 maybe? That's Jasmine in 2013. Completely out of touch with everything, both literally and figuratively. The emotional trauma she experienced during the fallout of her marriage has practically driven her insane, to the point where she was once caught on the streets, talking loudly to herself.

Because Cate Blanchett is such a marvel to watch, she elevates this Jasmine character to heights even Woody Allen couldn't have predicted. She gives her character such humanity and personality that you sometimes have to remind yourself that this is an unlikable character. This is the perfect example of a movie centered around a flawed, unlikable character that completely works. You don't need to like or sympathize with Jasmine, you just need to understand her. In the end, you may feel bad for her, or you may just pity her. The movie ultimately doesn't tell you how you should feel about her, and because of that, it's the most thoughtful film Woody Allen has made in years.

Where the film occasionally falters is its liberal use of flashbacks to give more of a backstory on all these characters. "Blue Jasmine" occasionally feels cut-and-pasted, story-wise. There isn't always a smooth flow and that becomes apparent halfway through the film. Luckily, that's not the case with the final act of the film which really nicely brings it all together, leaving us with this broken woman who appears to have no one else to turn to.

Some directors aren't able to get away with making a film that sometimes feels like an early draft of a screenplay, and not the final product. A lot of ideas here feel a little undercooked, some of the dialogue is a bit repetitive. It's not the most neatly constructed film in the world. But, hot damn, the elements "Blue Jasmine" does get right are simply excellent.

Grade: it doesn't really matter...

...but I guess a B+

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