Saturday, August 24, 2013

Cate Blanchett Is A Hot Mess In Woody Allen's BLUE JASMINE

Now playing at an indie art house near you:

BLUE JASMINE (Dir. Woody Allen, 2013)

In Woody Allen’s newest, Cate Blanchett’s Jeanette “Jasmine” Francis is the definition of a “hot mess.” A former Manhattan socialite who was previously married to Alec Baldwin as a millionaire investment banker, Blanchett is now a penniless widow who has no home. This is due to Baldwin’s Bernie Madoff-style swindling that put him in prison, where he committed suicide.

Blanchett’s adopted sister, Ginger, played by Sally Hawkins (HAPPY GO LUCKY), takes her into her humble San Franciscan apartment, ostensibly until the disgraced down-on-her-luck lady can get back on her feet.

In flashbacks we learn that Hawkins was once married to Andrew Dice Clay (yes, that Andrew Dice Clay) as a construction worker named Augie, but they lost their savings because of a deal gone wrong orchestrated by Baldwin. Hawkins is now dating Bobby Cannavale (Third Watch, Boardwalk Empire) as an auto mechanic that Blanchett dismisses as just another version of Clay’s Augie.

Having never completed college, Blanchett takes a computer class while working at a dentist’s office, but she doesn’t appear to have the aptitude for it. Also she has to fight off the advances of her dentist boss, A SERIOUS MAN’s Michael Stuhlbarg (another Boardwalk Empire regular).

Things look up for Blanchett and Hawkins when they attend a ritzy party together and meet new suitors in the form of Peter Sarsgaard as an aspiring politician, and Louis C.K. (a fitting addition to Allen’s cinematic universe) as a audio equipment salesman.

It’s a pleasure to report that Allen’s 44th movie as writer and director is among his strongest films. The fluidity of how he flashes back and forward is flawless, never confusing the viewer as to what happened when, with the dialogue’s naturalistic flow filling in all the information needed.

The frazzled boozy Blanchett, a character that's a cross between Tennessee William's Blanche Dubois from STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE and John Cassevete's Mabel from A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE, carries it all along, accomplishing the neat feat of making you care about her, yet disdaining her actions often at the same time. It’s an Oscar worthy performance that’s impossible to look away from.

Jasmine's unraveling is often handled humorously, but there’s a deep sadness (hence the title) to her story that will works its way into your psyche and stay there for days.

Equal parts comedy and drama (I hate the term “dramedy”), BLUE JASMINE could be seen as a ballsy breakdown of how one from a lofty background (Hawkins says repeatedly that Blanchett was born with “the good genes”), could end up a street person: A riches-to-rags cautionary tale for our shaky financial times. It also works as a treatise on the development of delusion, and the personal dangers of vainly trying to keep up appearances.

Blanchett keeps romanticizing about how the standard “Blue Moon” was playing when she first met Baldwin, but each time the memory gets hazier. By the end it’s as jumbled as she is.

With such solid performances (aside from Blanchett – Baldwin, Hawkins, Clay, Cannavale, Sarsgaard, and C.K. are all terrific), a superb screenplay, the crisp colorful cinematography of Javier Aguirresarobe (VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA), and the expected yet still pleasing jazz score, BLUE JASMINE proves that the 77-year old filmmaker can still wow us.

Blanchett’s Jasmine may be one Hell of a hot mess, but her movie is anything but messy. It’s simply hot stuff through and through.

More later...

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