Friday, February 28, 2014

Blue Jasmine

This will wrap up my mini Oscar-themed series of reviews, as I don't have time to watch and review the rest of the nominated films (though admittedly there are some I'd just rather not see). Hopefully you've enjoyed the reviews or at least found them helpful for the upcoming Oscar festivities this weekend.

Despite being an unabashed movie lover, I've never really worshiped at the alter of Woody Allen like many film fans do. Most of what I've seen has been pretty hit-or-miss with me, though I absolutely loved Midnight in Paris which came out a few years ago. Then I tried to sit down and watch To Rome with Love, which I found to be completely boring and had to turn it off less than thirty minutes into the movie. I've found that Woody Allen can sometimes come up with really imaginative and clever character-driven stories, and other times he gets too focused on something that ultimately undermines the story he's trying to tell. With that kind of introduction, it's not surprising that I didn't spend top-dollar to see Blue Jasmine in theaters, despite the positive word-of-mouth I've heard and the Oscar nomination for Cate Blanchett.

Coming off a turbulent relationship and left completely penniless, Jasmine is forced to move across the country to live with her unrelated sister Ginger (they were both adopted by the same parents). After an estrangement caused by Jasmine's ex-husband conning Ginger's husband out of their lottery winnings by getting him to invest in his crooked real estate business, things are particularly prickly between the two sisters as Jasmine returns to San Francisco. Though Jasmine is used to a lavish lifestyle, she struggles with the humiliation of starting from scratch and can't help but offend those around her with her snooty attitude towards what they deem "acceptable". No one really recognizes the psychological damage inflicted on Jasmine, however, until she finds another eligible suitor who might be the key to returning to her life of prosperity.

I find it difficult to deconstruct character pieces like this, because there isn't really a story structure, per se. All of the scenes that are presented to the audience are to tell us more about the title character and to form an opinion of her in one way or another. Based on that criteria, Woody Allen does a tremendous job of splicing together moments from different times in Jasmine's life to formulate a thesis as to why she's become the way we find her in Blue Jasmine. His directorial instincts are spot-on here as we slowly unravel her history and discover the depths of her psychosis.

Having said that, it's also (in typical Woody Allen form) sort of a darkly-comedic portrayal of her tragic situation. She routinely offends her sister's friends with her scathing indictment of their mediocre lifestyle, and she finds it hard to condescend her lofty ideals enough to actually recapture the success for which she constantly longs. The script is expertly written, and Allen knows exactly where he's going as he lays down a labyrinthine path towards character revelation. 

Of course, this is helped immeasurably by an absolute powerhouse performance by Cate Blanchett, who has probably never been better in any role in her career. She seems to completely embody this character and her magnetic portrayal of a psychologically broken woman whose life is in complete shambles makes everyone else seem superfluous. It'll be a crime if she doesn't take home the Academy Award this weekend.

The reason I can't entirely go with this movie is that it focuses so much on why the main character is so messed up and forgets to give us characters we actually like. Most of the characters are certainly designed to engender our sympathies, but there's nobody to root for in this story. Everyone makes bad decisions and ultimately, there's little redemption to be had for poor Jasmine, or anyone else for that matter. Were the ending not so abrupt and even a little depressing, perhaps I would have enjoyed this movie more. As it is, Blue Jasmine is an artistic character exploration that's well made and impressively performed, but ultimately fails to live up to its potential.

Still, I am a little surprised it didn't garner a Best Picture nomination, based solely on the overwhelmingly positive critical response (to the tune of 91% on Rotten Tomatoes). Despite the lukewarm final paragraphs of this review, I really did appreciate what this movie did and Cate Blanchett's performance in particular is a revelation. For that reason alone I would definitely recommend people see it, though if you're not keen on Woody Allen's style you can probably skip it. I give Blue Jasmine three stars.

BLUE JASMINE is rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, language and sexual content