One can’t help but wait for the infamous “Stella” line shouted from the street in Brando’s voice while watching the new Woody Allen film Blue Jasmine. This time around it would be Andrew Dice Clay doing the belting and Cate Blanchet doing the swooning.
In his latest outing, Allen has comprised a film which again brings together fine acting, story structure and wonderful talent for finding the essence in a fallen character, but this time it could be at the expense of not straying away from material so well known that audiences won’t be able to break the mold in their minds.
Relocating the familiarity of Allen’s NYC and taking his newest story to San Francisco, we open on Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) who is freshly fallen from her First Class, Park Avenue plane seat of life (both figuratively and literally) and arrived on sister, Ginger’s (Sally Hawkins) door step, looking for some shelter and a shoulder to cry on – oh yeah, some Xanax and Vodka wouldn’t be too bad either. Jasmine has recently escaped her previous situation which involved carrying on a life as a disgraced and financially ambivalent socialite, married to an immoral businessman named Hal (Alec Baldwin). After some illegal investments and high yield entanglements, the government has not only tracked Hal down and seized his properties, but Jasmine has stumbled upon his track record of affairs & now she seeks asylum away from her disastrous situation within refuge with her working-class sister across the country in order to rebuild her second life.
Blanchett, Blanche – close enough, right?
This is where it all starts for Allen, as he has set his latest (knowingly or not) like that of the famous Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire. Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen’s most vibrant and rich film since his Match Point outing – it’s a moral fable about greed, the High Life and how the tides have turned. Yet, for all of it’s similarities to this day and age of recent Wall Street and Real Estate market crashes, there is still a strong resemblance to that of the Williams’ original property.
Together, Allen and Blanchett have created a division of screen power that displays two entities going in separate directions – whether by choice or happenstance – and in doing so, create a deep and disharmonious resonance that helps to place a shattering end to this dramedy. Allen tells of a tale that places blame on the woman who’s choices have led her to the current fate she’s in, while Blanchett’s blinded view and narcissism have lead her to blame those around her. Overall this type of story lends itself to a close and familiar archetype which, at the end of the day, many will harp on is simply the retelling of a very popular original source.
First, the cheating husband, played by the slick and soulless Alec Baldwin. Not only as the veteran actor escaped his streak of recent 30 Rock inspired Jack offshoots but we finally see the actor playing someone that isn’t mugging to the camera. For all the glamour and glitz the role has to its disposal, Baldwin is still playing stripped, minimal and played to a T. Second, comes the fish-out-of-water trope which Allen did try to work with in his previous film Sleeper but here in Jasmine, seems more harsh than the original. As a storytelling device, we get a non-linear tale that (for the most part) is used to help constantly move plot and storyline but always stays in the present by introducing a mental convention to the mix; the setup ultimately helps key into a Blanche-esque connection to Jasmine as well. Furthermore, a jazzy underscore and reiteration of ‘Blue Moon’ evokes Williams’ piano, Streetcar’s card playing scene gets replaced with a televised boxing matching and even what could be a future drinking game based on dialogue from Williams’ script serves to highlight large similarities in the two properties. The list goes on and on but the ultimate point here however is that at the end of the film, none of this matters as audiences will stay for the writing and and the cast buildup.
Blanchett is marvelous as Jasmine and makes the character simply vibrate on screen. In an early scene of the film, character is pushed and questions of believability are tasked upon the audience to buy what is being sold on screen. Somehow, in those doubtful moments, Blanchett grabs ahold of Jasmine and catapults her and everyone on screen into something real. Its this belief that leads viewers into scenes that, no matter how far Blanchett takes Jasmine, you somehow find it okay. She’s farcical, vindictive and meltdowns at the drop of a dime but one can’t help but to give her support by way of a pat on the back, another martini and a reveling in sitting back to watch how Blanchett truly gives in to her surroundings, ultimately becoming a woman truly broken and left shuddering in the breeze by life’s evil turn of events.
In the fashion of Streetcar discussions, the Stanley character in all of this is split between Augie, a towering figure of Ginger’s ex-husband (Andrew Dice Clay), and Chili (Bobby Cannavale), a sensitive but opinionated mechanic who is currently dating the Hawkins’ hesitated and fidgety sister. Both actors carry enough danger, just under the surface, that they can be considered loose cannons but neither takes the reigns enough to harness the same power, male domination and screen-grasping effect of Brando’s swagger. Even at the expense of losing some of the savageness of Kowalski, it’s a nice change of pace to see writing trying to handle an equal footing in the separation of character; by doing so, Allen has helped bolster the focus towards Jasmine’s storyline and the mental instabilities of the centralized character. While both Clay and Cannavale are a bit broad at times, neither are too soft or are looking for a wall to chew, so both actors make for a nice duo; A like the televised boxing match, its ultimately Cannavale coming out on top for having a few more standoffs with Blanchett that audiences will be happy to see. The sister in all of this, played by the apprehensive and sincere Sally Hawkins shows she is strong and enjoyable to watch but again – in Streetcar fashion – gets a bit lost in the shuffle as she is sandwiched between the male characters and the force of Blanchett.
Blue Jasmine is very well and thoroughly put together but there are still a few puzzle pieces not sitting perfect. Some scenes don’t come off completely organic or in the vein of the storyline – while they do add more for the character study here, they seem superfluous in the grand scheme. Additionally, Allen has never been one to display a tremendous fervor for detailed cinematography but it would be nice to see more flourishes in visual style matched with director’s writing. Yes, it’s a thankful thing that Javier Aguirresarobe returned to the set after shooting Vicky Cristina Barcelona, take (500) Days of Summer’s Eric Steelberg lead of shooting (hidden parts of Los Angeles while maintaining the city authenticity), and give viewers a different side of San Francisco but Blue Jasmine is about a woman falling out of fashion with her state of life & being, not just a comedy about being neurotic.
As a whole, Allen has come out with another solid film that is sure to end up on top 10 lists of many a critic and (surely one would think) audience polls for one very good reason – Woody Allen knows storytelling. Be it Shakespeare, Chekhov or Williams – Woody Allen has shown his strength in coming up with great stories or (at least) how to fill in the gaps with original ideas if he borrows something for the screen. For all the talk of Blue Jasmine being an unofficial adaptation of Streetcar, it simply won’t matter to those in the audience as the acting is everything here and the actors know how to tell a story, just like Woody Allen.
Watch the trailer here.
Other Notable Performances:
It certainly wouldn’t be a Woody Allen film without some random cameos – here are just a few of the best:
Louis CK as an understated and unsure sound system salesman who has a run-in with Ginger.
Michael Stuhlbarg as Jasmine’s enamored dentist-boss, Dr. Flicker. While we’ve seen the Boardwalk Empire actor before in meek roles – Flicker comes off as simply a a treat here. The actor keeps it simple enough that it’s cringe-worthy but audiences won’t be able to look away.