Sunday, August 04, 2013

Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine" (2013)

It is tempting to describe Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine (2013) as a Madoff scheme of A Streetcar Named Desire. Last night at the Lincoln Plaza cinemas with GH, WL and DM, I kept expecting the infusion of Allenesque comedy into the Williamsian tragedy to pay off, but it never did. WL was right in describing the serious scenes as melodramatic. I thought only two minor characters carry whatever moral weight the film possesses. Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), the first husband of Ginger, loses all his money and his chance of setting up his own construction business. Their marriage breaks up. He makes visible the human devastation of Hal's scams. Closer to home, Danny, son of Hal, the Bernie Madoff character played by Alec Baldwin, is the innocent victim of father-worship. The short scene in the music shop, in which Danny (Alden Ehrenreich) pleads with his mother Jasmine to get out of his life, is searing.

Cate Blanchett is fine as the deluded Jasmine, the Blanche character, but even she cannot overcome the weakness of the script to show the tragedy at the heart of her delusions. Her Park Avenue life is so devoid of deeper values that it is hard to see the loss of it as sad. The knowing digs against that life got some laughs from the audience last night, but the jokes felt tired to me. The flashbacks to that former high life are unsurprising and thus seem unnecessary. If there is nothing insightful about New York, there is also little visually interesting about the San Francisco that appears in this film.

Sally Hawkins plays with great naturalness Ginger, Jasmine's sister, who settles for the poorer class of men, like grease monkey Chili (Bobby Cannavale) and philandering Al (Louis C.K.). They are all that she thinks she deserves, being born with inferior genes. Jasmine, whose aspiration is the direct opposite, sees accurately Ginger's low self-evaluation. It is her one true insight into people, an insight born out of a flaw. Both sisters, adopted as children, are more similar than they think. The compensations for being adopted that one seeks are the movie's true burden of knowledge.

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