Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Recent Watches: Blue Jasmine (2013)

I don’t like to comment on the personal life of the people involved with the films I review. I think its tacky and this blog is devoted to movies, not celebrity gossip. Yet it’s become difficult not to talk about “Blue Jasmine” without bringing up Woody Allen’s most recent trouble. I won’t share my opinion about Dylan Farrow’s molestation accusations other then to say I think it’s strange she’s only bringing it up now. Allen has been cranking out films annually for two decades and it’s not like “Blue Jasmine” is the only one of his recent work to receive critical praise. He won an Oscar for “Midnight in Paris” only two years ago, after all. That the controversy has overshadowed the film is disheartening, even more so if it winds up affecting the movie’s Oscar chances. It’s a funny, bittersweet film, solid work from the filmmaker.

On the same level, you can’t help but think of Mia Farrow a little while watching “Blue Jasmine.” The plot follows Jasmine, the widowed wife of a corrupt Wall Street dealer. After loosing her life of riches and comfort, Jasmine has constantly been on the edge of a mental breakdown. The movie opens as she moves in with her sister Ginger, who lives at the opposite end of the economic spectrum, Jasmine attempting to reinvent her life. Both sisters are at turning points of sorts in their lives. The film cuts back and forth between Jasmine’s fraught current life and her previous life as the spoiled wife of a rich man, right before that world crumbled.

Woody Allen has written some of the best, most nuanced female characters in cinema history as well as women that are cartoonish, obnoxious shrews. On one side of that spectrum lies Annie Hall and Alice while, say, the wife from “Midnight in Paris” resides flatly at the other extreme. Jasmine is somewhere between the two extremes. On one level, she’s mentally unstable. She’s selfish, conceited, bitchy, and myopic. She's also treated very sympathetically, the movie focusing heavily on her impending breakdown. One of this very funny film’s reoccurring gag involves Jasmine’s tendencies to ramble. The film begins with her on a plane, apparently telling an old woman she’s met all about herself. However, we soon find out the old woman never asked about Jasmine. She was merely talking to herself and the old woman was the closest person listening. This gag reaches it zenith when she starts rambling towards her confused, seven year old nephews. She’s constantly popping pills, nerves always jangling under her skin. When she wanders into a new relationship with a would-be politician, Jasmine begins to tell white lies, combing over the embarrassing or tragic details of her previous life. This ends badly. Though “Blue Jasmine” might occasionally play its heroine’s poor stress management for laughs, by the end, it veers more towards tragedy.

“Blue Jasmine” is about another woman as well. Under-appreciated character actress Sally Hawkins plays Jasmine’s put-upon sister Ginger. Ginger is about as far apart from Jasmine as possible, at least at first. She’s slightly vulgar and works a crappy job to take care of her two sons. The difference between the two sisters is most obvious when they constantly point out that they aren’t related blood. However, both women have lousy taste in men. Ginger’s ex-husband, Augie, played by an unrecognizable Andrew Dice Clay, comes off as a bit of a blowhard. Her current boyfriend, the inexplicably named Chilli, is an even bigger mook, basically the grown-up version of a guido. His pathetic attributes come into sharper focus when he storms into the apartment and tears a phone out of the wall in rage. At the same party Jasmine meets her would-be beau, Ginger encounters a charming, sexually vivacious fellow played by a perfectly likable Louise C. K. When that relationship falls apart dramatically, you feel the most for Ginger. Like Jasmine, she’s prone to negative moments, treating her sister like shit at times. At the end, she’s a fallible human being dealt a shitty card by chance.

Cate Blanchett has received plenty of praise for her leading role here. Assuming the controversy doesn’t wind up distracting, she might still win. Is it the strongest of the nominated performances? Possibly. Blanchett sometimes indulges in exaggerated Big acting. The film’s emotional climax comes during a flashback, breaking up with her husband, when she completely shatters a part. Unfortunately, Blanchett veers close to overdoing it at times. The blatantly comedic bits rest uncomfortably between mockery and sympathy. When Jasmine gets the shakes, popping pills and downing them with wine, Blanchett might be playing it too broad. However, she mostly holds the performance together, inhabiting the character with steely-eyed nerves, choking down a world of hurt. Does she deserve to win? Maybe. In a year with a better crop of nominations, probably not. This year? Yeah, I suppose.  

I’ll admit to being one of those film fans who prefer Allen’s earlier, funnier movies. Since his comedies have always run on neurosis, it’s fine that his drama mine those same emotions for pathos. (I still haven’t made it all the way through “Interiors” though. Sorry.) “Blue Jasmine” is certainly a neurotic movie. Sometimes it simplifies those issues. Jasmine’s mental breakdown manifesting as wandering through the streets, talking to herself, is a bit much, an oversimplification of a complicated issue. Jasmine nearly entering another cushy life as a politician’s wife comes about in a slightly contrived manner. Either way, I admire Allen’s stab at nonlinear storytelling. Cutting back and forth between the past and the present provides a great contrast between the differing attitudes. As the film goes on, we realize there’s really isn’t much difference between Jasmine’s life now and her life then. The cracks were just more well-hidden.

“Blue Jasmine” has maybe been a little overrated by the press. To call it Woody Allen's best film in over a decade is definitely overstating it. The script works in many of the same themes and concepts the director has always toyed with. It’s a good film, humane and in-touch. The excellent moments, both funny and sad, rise above the movie’s more flawed elements. [7/10]

No comments: