Friday, August 9, 2013

The colour of no money

A series of sea changes in class position have made Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) blue. Or is her rattled state symptomatic of something more fundamentally flawed in her psyche? Maybe it’s just early dementia? We see her nattering away to a fellow passenger in first-class; traumatized and narcissistic, she has a serious handicap when it comes to over-sharing. But Jasmine needs to share—the bad thoughts creep up when she’s all alone—and it seems anyone will do. She was not so long ago filthy rich. By the rather devastating end of Blue Jasmine, she’s mostly just filthy.

This is the work of the serious Woody, which is a good Woody in that seriousness can bring out a focus and discernment sometimes lacking in Allen’s recent comedies. Woody on the economy might sound like a dubious tag, but Blue Jasmine is pretty smart, if cynical by default, about the pitfalls of privilege and the ways that desires for class ascension corrupt everyone. As the film begins, Jasmine arrives in San Francisco. She’s hopeless, penniless and needs to crash at the modest home of her cashier sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Jasmine is self-absorbed and snobby, and Ginger seems set up as her salt-of-the-earth, pure-hearted foil, but Allen isn’t one to sentimentalize any class, so as the plot thickens Ginger will also spy an opportunity to better herself, however slightly, in the arms of a much classier man than her current beau, Chili (Bobby Cannavale), and stoops to deception—both of Chili and herself—to accelerate the new romance. The Ginger subplot may seem predictable, but it also feels alive, thanks in part to the nuance and urgency brought to it by Hawkins and Cannavale, and by Andrew Dice Clay giving a shockingly strong performance, and Louis C.K., who’s wonderful, not emphatically funny but a welcome breath of fresh air at the film’s musty midpoint. He’s one of those actors who should be working with Allen as much as possible.

As is Alec Baldwin, very funny in an incoherent role in To Rome With Love and very slimy here as Hal, Jasmine’s ex, a Bernie Madoff-type whose imprisonment for running a Ponzi scheme leaves Jasmine—who may or may not have been onto him—broke and humiliated. “I sign everything,” Jasmine claims. “I’m very trusting.” Hal was a millionaire, a philanthropist and serial philanderer—we see him chatting up a nipply confection at what seems like an otherwise deadly boring party full of rich old people during one of Blue Jasmine’s many flashbacks. The line separating past and present in this film is diaphanous. For Jasmine, as her confusion burgeons, it occasionally dissolves altogether. At times the camera itself (Vicky Christina Barcelona’s Javier Aguirresarobe returns as Allen’s cinematographer) seems to float, disembodied, in time with Jasmine’s spells of dislocation. That these fugues finally work as well as they do are a testament to Blanchett’s daringness, collaborative intuition and clarity of choices. Amazingly, Allen claims to have not seen her in Liv Ullman’s 2009 production of A Streetcar Named Desire at the Brooklyn Academy of Music—amazing because Blanche Dubois is so obviously a template for Jasmine, whose mind keeps escaping to some idealized past. She too is always relying on the kindness of strangers, and is usually lying as a way of soliciting that kindness—a recipe for small, personal tragedies of the sort that Allen, however old-fashioned his sensibility may remain, is still very good at evoking. 

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