Blue Jasmine

2013, Movie, PG-13, 98 mins

Review

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Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine finds the almost-80-year-old filmmaker in fine form as a director of actors, but he undermines that skill with a terribly structured and under-thought screenplay.

The writing problems begin almost immediately as Allen opens the movie with Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) word-vomiting her life story to an elderly stranger on a plane. It seems she is no longer with her wealthy New York financier husband and she’s headed to San Francisco to move in with her sister. This device, setting up the main character in a long expository monologue or voice-over, is something Allen has relied on heavily in the past -- it’s how we first meet Michael Caine’s character in Hannah and Her Sisters -- but he makes this lazy shorthand unnecessary by spending much of the film’s first 30 minutes in flashback.

As good as Alec Baldwin is at playing Jasmine’s ex Hal, a Bernie Madoff–like scoundrel, these sequences have a dull inevitability to them and make us eager to get back to the present-day action, in which Jasmine, an intense ball of neuroses and anxiety, moves in with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Ginger is a grocery clerk who is divorced from Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), a bitter man whose one shot at financial independence was stolen by Hal. She’s currently dating Chili (Bobby Cannavale), a mechanic with a passionate streak that makes him seem capable of violence when he’s worked up.

Jasmine pops prescription pills, self-medicates with massive amounts of vodka -- a particular brand gets prominent product placement throughout and is name-checked numerous times -- tries to support herself as a dentist’s secretary, begins taking interior-design classes, and eventually meets a diplomat and aspiring politician (Peter Sarsgaard) with whom she falls in love.

Recalling the strident, type-A, upper-class queens played to perfection for Allen by Judy Davis in films like Husbands and Wives, Blanchett gives a ceaselessly nervy performance. She’s so good at playing this spoiled, mentally unstable person that being around her as an audience member is off-putting and anxiety producing. The movie climaxes with a plot revelation that should be deliciously ambiguous, but then the actual last shot of the film leaves us wondering exactly what Allen thinks of his main character. It’s like he made the whole movie to try and figure her out, and when he was done, he still didn’t have an answer.

The story line between Ginger and Chili is more interesting, but even here Allen falls back on familiar tropes that undercut solid performances from both of them, as well as from Louis C.K. as another possible love interest for Ginger.

Although the film is loaded with conflicts between white- and blue-collar society, is full of committed performances, and comes with a ripped-from-the-tabloids angle that’s rare for Allen, it never comes to life. There’s so much potential in Blue Jasmine, but it doesn’t coalesce into anything engaging. With any luck, some of this cast will break into his universe of go-to performers -- they all deserve to -- and hopefully next time around they’ll get much better material. leave a comment --Perry Seibert

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