August 06, 2013

MOVIES: Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen, 2013)

Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), having lost everything in the downfall of her Bernie Madoff-esque husband (Alec Baldwin), arrives in San Francisco to stay with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), and put her life back together.

Among other things, this is Allen riffing on A Streetcar Named Desire -- fragile woman arrives to stay with working class sister, and clashes with her tough-guy boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale) -- but Woody Allen may be the director least suited to a study of American class differences. His attitude towards his working class characters is painfully condescending; poor Cannavale, who I normally like very much, is stuck dese-dem-dose-ing his way through the movie because the accent is a stronger character trait than anything Allen's script provides.

Mostly, though, this is a study of a woman in full-on nervous and emotional collapse. Jasmine has never had to work in life -- she dropped out of college without a degree to get married -- and is utterly at sea when left stranded in the world with no money. She and Ginger aren't close enough for her to get any real emotional support there, and Jasmine, as Allen's surrogate, looks down on Ginger from such a snooty height that it would never occur to her to seek it.

Blanchett's performance has been much praised here, and is an early contender for an Oscar nomination, but it didn't work well for me. It is, to be sure, a performance that displays great technique and precision, but in this case that's a big part of the problem. It's a performance in which you can see the acting as it happens; Blanchett's every choice and character tic are visible. Blanchett is so perfectly and visibly in control that I never found it possible to believe that Jasmine was out of control. It's a performance that desperately needs some sloppiness, some chaos, some sense of unpredictability and surprise, and never has any of those things.

As for the rest of the cast, only Baldwin comes off well, and he's working in very familiar territory for him. Hawkins, who I've always though much overrated, struggles to maintain a consistent accent, and none of those she attempts sound particularly American. Cannavale, Louis CK, and Andrew Dice Clay are buried under so many layers of Allen's contempt that they can't possibly do any decent acting; and Peter Sarsgaard, as Jasmine's potential new beau, is noticably uncomfortable with the tempo and rhythms of Allen's dialogue.

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