Saturday, August 3, 2013

Blue Jasmine [2013]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (L) (3 Stars)  AVClub (B+)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (B. Kenigsberg) review

Blue Jasmine [2013] (written and directed by Woody Allen [IMDb]) is a spectacularly current mash-up of Tennessee William's Streetcar Named Desire [IMDb] and the recent 2008 Financial Crisis / Bernie Madoff scandal. 

The film begins with fallen NY socialite Jasmine (the film's "Blanche" character played here to certain Oscar nomination worthy heights by Kate Blanchett) flying into San Francisco (rather than Streetcar's New Orleans) to move-in with her far more humble / down-to-earth sister Ginger (played again at a level worthy of Oscar consideration by Sally Hawkins).  Both had been adopted and grew-up in Brooklyn before Janette (who subsequently changed her name to Jasmine) was "swept off of her feet" by the good-looking, über-confident and wealthy, soon to be spectacularly wealthy, Hal (played spectacularly again by Alec Baldwin).  But all that was gone.  All that was left of Janette/Jasmine's past gilded life was designer luggage (baggage?) and ... stories, like the story of how Jasmine had met Hal "to the strains of, 'you know the song' (most probably don't, I didn't ...), Blue Moon."

When Jasmine arrives by taxi at Ginger's humble abode, a flat above a nail shop in a nondescript, and certainly non-marquis section of San Fran, Ginger isn't there.  Calling her on her cell-phone, to ask if she even has the place right, Jasmin's told by her apologetic sister to run-over a few blocks to the grocery store where she works to pick-up the keys.  She does.  The taxi driver helps her carry her bags into the flat, Jasmine still tipping him well. "Wow!" he exclaims. "Old habits die hard," she shrugs.  Soon Ginger returns and, since she'd otherwise have to leave her there again..., asks Jasmine if she'd join her as she runs over to her ex-husband Augey (played again remarkably by Andrew Dice Clay)'s place to pick-up their their two kids Matthew and Johnny (played by Daniel Jenks and Max Rutherford).

Ginger and Augey's marriage had collapsed after their entire life-savings, which they had come to only through winning a significant if still relatively minor prize in the California lottery ($200,000), was lost following the Feds' arrest of Jasmine's husband Hal for having effectively run a decades-long pyramid scheme to finance his and Jasmine's previous Manhattan-the Hamptons-San Tropez lifestyle.  "Didn't you know?  How could you not know?" Augey screams at Jasmine when she shows up with Ginger to pick up the kids.  "I did not.  I never concerned myself with numbers.  And besides, I lost everything as well."  Yes, folks, while there are actual laughs present in the spectacularly written and cuttingly delivered lines of this film as well ... the dialogue throughout the film brims with awful betrayal and pain.

Ginger's current beau, an auto-mechanic nicknamed Chili (played again spectacularly by Bobby Canavale), who along with Augey plays the "Kowalski" role in the story, also seethes with resentment toward Jasmine's entry into his and Ginger's lives.  He was to have moved-in with Ginger on a trajectory of getting married.  (Ginger wanted a male in her house for the sake of her boys).  But Jasmine's penniless (except for her expensive baggage) arrival put that on hold.  He also knows from Ginger (after all, they were to get married) that Jasmine paid Ginger no mind while she was still rich back in New York.  But here she was now, in their way, and yet, still, often condescending to them both.  Much, of course, still has to play-out ...

 I realize that this is a film that a large number of my parishioners with probably never see.  Woody Allen [IMDb] is often perceived as part of America's often decadent elite.  And the break-up of his relationship with Mia Farrow years back over the beginning of his relationship with arguably then his 17 year old step-daughter Soon-Li certainly didn't help his reputation.

But here I do believe that holding-fast to this perception is a shame because Woody Allen ALSO grew-up in BROOKLYN.   And I do believe that Allen's portrayal of the palpable anger of his hard-working/honest Augey and Chili characters (who could have been his parents, friends and relatives) toward Jasmine and her husband Hal who RIPPED THEM OFF and DESTROYED THEIR FUTURES to support their high-flying lifestyle is dead-on.  And neither does Woody Allen give himself a break.  To those who do see the film, note the incident that precipitates the collapse of Hal and Jasmine's fortunes (and the destruction of so many others' lives and dreams, including Ginger-Augie's, as well).  Woody certainly doesn't paint himself among the "good guys."

It may all be too little too late ... but this is a film that ought to shake its probable largely upper-class / elite audience and certainly deserves significant consideration for a host of awards come the Oscars this year.  In terms of style, this film is certainly more of the vein of Crimes and Misdemeanors [1989] and Match Point [2005] than Annie Hall [1977] or Midnight in Paris [2011].  Yet Blue Jasmine [2013] is undoubtably one of Woody Allen's [IMDb] best films and quite seriously _may_ be remembered decades from now as his most important.  Approaching 80, and despite everything, Allen may actually be only now reaching his prime ;-)

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