Tuesday, February 04, 2014

All That Jasmine

Woody Allen's latest film, Blue Jasmine, missed out on an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, but all the smart money is on its nominated star, Cate Blanchett to take home Best Actress. I was curious to see what all the fuss is about.

Blue Jasmine is the story of a falling-apart woman whose rich husband has been caught up in a financial scandal, leaving her alone and penniless. She moves across the country, and in with her sister, to try to get back on her feet again.

Generally, I've thought better of the Woody Allen films in which he himself does not appear. I find his overly neurotic behavior cloying and phony, and for me it detracts from all the films in which he appears. Still, even the more recent films he did not insert himself into tend to have a "Woody Allen character" in them. (In Midnight in Paris, for example, it's Owen Wilson.) Blue Jasmine is interesting in that the "Woody Allen character" is female. There are different traits in the mix, and a very different kind of back story, but still -- close your eyes, and you can hear the rhythm of Woody Allen in Cate Blanchett's delivery.

Of course, Cate Blanchett does far better with the character. Her role, Jasmine, is an almost thoroughly detestable one. Her character is spoiled, oblivious, entitled, condescending... a litany of traits for which the audience would like to see her be knocked down a peg, even though the movie already begins with her having been knocked down several. It's a testament to Blanchett's utterly believable performance, that somebody actually could be like this, that the movie is watchable at all. In fact, Jasmine is actually funny at times. And by the end of the movie, impossibly, she's sympathetic. It's hard to rank Blanchett's very emotional performance here against other nominees like the wisely understated performance of Amy Adams amid the self-indulgence of her co-stars in American Hustle (though, as I noted, still not her best work), or the technically demanding work of Sandra Bullock in Gravity. Suffice it to say, Cate Blanchett deserves this Oscar nomination, and I certainly wouldn't begrudge her the win.

There are other good performances throughout the cast. Sally Hawkins plays Jasmine's sister Ginger (get it?), and is compelling enough to get you wrapped up in a subplot that you realize afterward was almost certainly unnecessary to the movie. Louis C.K. also shines in a brief appearance in that subplot. Alec Baldwin is wonderfully charming/smarmy (smarming?) as Jasmine's corrupt husband. Peter Sarsgaard is winning as a new man in Jasmine's life

That said, the movie doesn't amount to very much beyond the good performances. I mentioned the unnecessary subplot. Also, the main plot itself feels too much inspired by Tennessee Williams' famous play, A Streetcar Named Desire. As soon as the final credits role, and the skilled actors are no longer right there before your eyes working so hard to make the movie enjoyable, you begin to realize you've had an appetizer or maybe a dessert, but no meal to fill you up.

I'd give Blue Jasmine a middle of the road C. If you like good acting, then it's probably worth your time to see Cate Blanchett in a great performance that likely will take home an Oscar statue. Otherwise, only Woody Allen devotees need apply.

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