Sunday, August 25, 2013

Blue Jasmine: Woody Allen's chronicle of an unraveling woman

Blue Jasmine opens with its titular character on a plane, nattering on about her life to a completely uninterested stranger.  That's pretty much Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) in a nutshell -- spilling her troubles onto the world, oblivious to the way she does or doesn't affect it.  When we meet Jasmine, it's after her ex-husband has just orchestrated some sort of fraudulent financial scheme, which left him jailed and her penniless and crawling to the door of her semi-estranged, adopted sister (Sally Hawkins).  Her sister lives at a standard that Jasmine is less accustomed to, and you can easily see the differences between them in terms of clothes, posture, and general demeanor.  Much of the narrative drive comes from exploring these differences, as Jasmine tries to put herself back together and ascend past this style of living that she feels is beneath her.  If you look at it a certain way, the film functions as a critique of the rich and privileged, and just how much they live outside of reality.  Jasmine is clearly unequipped to go through life without the cushion of luxury, lacking any skills -- unable to even work a computer -- or the patience to deal with people she thinks of as plebeians.

But writer/director Woody Allen is less interested in those blanket observations and more in Jasmine, singularly focusing on how her actions sabotage herself and those around her.  It's a character study first, and a terrific one at that -- Allen meticulously shades Jasmine, revealing the jumbled tower of tics and anxieties that she's constructed out of.  The film seamlessly blends present-day scenes of her life in shambles with flashbacks of how she got there, and it's a divide that Jasmine can't fully comprehend either.  So steadfast is she in regaining the comforts of her past that she idly recites old thoughts and conversations, ignoring the corporeal and unsettled onlookers in front of her to ruminate on the old ghosts she's haunted by.  The character is wonderfully written, but it's Blanchett's performance that steals the show here.  Jasmine is a woman with a slackening grip on the thread that holds every bit of her carefully coiffed facade together, and the way she slowly just wilts over the course of the film is something to behold.  She's like one giant, exposed nerve, and Blanchett gives one of the best performances of the year in the process of bringing her to life.

With so many flashbacks sewn into the film, it makes some of the very expository dialogue feel even more superfluous and clunky.  Even when considering the distant nature of Jasmine's relationship with her sister, it still feels like some of their conversations only happen for the sake of the audience.    Yet it's hard to get too worked up over that when everything else in the film is so perfectly pitched.  This is Woody Allen's first pure drama in a while, but there's no rust to be found on him.  Blue Jasmine is a rich portrait of a woman who gets the rug pulled out from under her life, and can't quite figure out how to find her footing again.

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