'Inside Llewyn Davis' and 'Out of the Furnace': The Coen Brothers Unplugged, Woody Harrelson Unchained "Inside Llewyn Davis" is a ramblin' kind of movie with several things to commend it. The ramblin' is a problem, though. The Coen brothers, co-writing and -directing once again, have set their story in the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early …Read more. 'Oldboy': Spike Lee's Unsparing Tribute to a Classic South Korean Shocker Spike Lee's remake of "Oldboy" is every bit as brutal as the 2003 South Korean cult film on which it's modeled. Lee's movie retains the carefully muted color design of director Park Chan-wook's original, and though it elides a few of Park's most …Read more. 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire': Jennifer Lawrence in a Bigger, Somewhat Better Sequel Another year, another prime-time massacre in the sad land of Panem. You'll recall that in the first "Hunger Games" movie, our spunky protagonist, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), outfoxed government game-runners to emerge victorious …Read more. 'Nebraska' and 'Charlie Countryman': A Road Trip With Bruce Dern and Will Forte, A Romanian Holiday With Shia LaBeouf Bruce Dern gives a brave and unfaltering performance in "Nebraska," the new movie by Alexander Payne. Dern already has won the best-actor award at this year's Cannes International Film Festival, and now his portrayal of an old man sinking …Read more.more articles
'Blue Jasmine': Cate Blanchett Lights Up a Very Surprising Woody Allen Movie
"Blue Jasmine" is certainly one of the most arresting of Woody Allen's late-career escape-from-New-York movies. It has the shape of a comedy, and it's often very funny; but as the story proceeds, we come to realize that its protagonist, the titular Jasmine, is someone we can't bear to keep laughing at. Lurching through the film in a haze of delusion and desperation, barely maintaining on a diet of Xanax and vodka, Jasmine is one of Allen's most harrowing characters; and in bringing her to life on the screen, Cate Blanchett gives a performance that pivots from frazzled to doom-ridden and back with a virtuosa's ease.
The story is a retooling of Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire." Blanchett's Jasmine is a self-coddling New York society matron whose life of hermetic luxury — the vast Park Avenue apartment, the beachfront Hamptons estate, the pressing question of whether or not to buy a private jet — has been provided by her husband, a Wall Street investment hustler named Hal (played by Alec Baldwin, a master of all things slick and sketchy). When Hal is busted for fraud and sent to prison, the Internal Revenue Service swoops in to confiscate his every asset, leaving Jasmine, a woman with no discernible skill sets, unmoored.
Sort of homeless, she flees to San Francisco to impose upon the blue-collar hospitality of her cheery sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins, entirely lovable). This relationship feels forced. Jasmine and Ginger have no blood connection — they were separately adopted by their parents — but that doesn't entirely explain how they turned out to be such polar-opposite individuals. Ginger, a lowly grocery clerk, is all heart, whereas Jasmine, for whom the concept of work is mostly a rumor, is all id and very little else.
Jasmine's decision to seek shelter with her sister is an especially impudent move. It was Jasmine who encouraged Ginger's husband, Augie (an affecting Andrew Dice Clay), to invest their family nest egg in one of Hal's shady business deals; after the money vanished, Ginger's marriage collapsed.
As the story advances, Allen uses frequent flashbacks to Jasmine's New York life to illuminate her fish-out-of-water floundering in San Francisco. The social instruction he seeks to impart is a shopworn cliché: The glittery rich can be immoral monsters, whereas working-class folks, with their simple beer-centered pleasures, are the salt of the earth. Still, his witty script mines steady laughter from Jasmine's incessant bumblings. Uncertain whether to become an anthropologist or an interior decorator, she takes a job as a receptionist with an amorous dentist (Michael Stuhlbarg in a too-small role) and then hooks up with a more promising meal ticket, a monumentally smarmy young diplomat named Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard). Can Jasmine's wreck of a life be salvaged? Will Woody Allen allow it?
Although the cast is a dream assemblage (not the least of which includes Louis C.K. as a jovial sound engineer putting the moves on Ginger), Blanchett is all the reason anyone might need to see this movie. Giving voice to Jasmine's internal chaos in extended arias of jibbering delusion, she's a wonder to behold. But the picture is fatally undermined by the icy detachment with which Allen observes her pained incomprehension — because Jasmine isn't just a spoiled brat getting a comical comeuppance; she's a real victim, apparently of bipolar disorder. (She already has done time in a sanitarium and weathered electroconvulsive therapy, to no avail.) If this were a real comedy — which, in the end, it's decidedly not — we could enjoy her learning of long-delayed life lessons. But it's not reality therapy that Jasmine needs; it's professional help, which might not be enough in any case. Allen the writer extends her no helping hand, and our laughter dribbles away. The movie's devastating final scene chills us to the bone.
Kurt Loder is the film critic for Reason Online. To find out more about Kurt Loder and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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