'While We're Young': Ben Stiller and Adam Driver in Dueling Generations. 'Get Hard': Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart in a Familiar Comedy Raunch-Fest. Noah Baumbach's "While We're Young" might have been a simple takedown of the millennial generation, those feckless hipsters with their empty values and sense of boundless entitlement. You know: "These damn kids today." But the movie is more complex …Read more. 'The Divergent Series: Insurgent' and 'Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter': Shailene Woodley in a Subpar Sequel and Rinko Kikuchi in an Overhyped Sundance Item Those who love Veronica Roth's best-selling books may be distressed to learn that "Insurgent," the sequel to last year's dystopian megaplex hit "Divergent," takes major liberties with the Roth novel on which it's based. Or so I'm told by a colleague …Read more. 'Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief' and 'The Wrecking Crew': Strange Tales From the Church of Xenu and the Secret Weapon of '60s Rock By now, open mockery of the Church of Scientology is an international pastime. YouTube abounds with videos of the cult's celebrity devotees and zomboid inquisitors. And the group's nutty particulars — the mad founder, the "billion-year" …Read more. 'Chappie': A Sci-Fi Misfire From Neill Blomkamp South African director Neill Blomkamp is an ace action man with an unfortunate need to enlighten us about social issues. His first feature, the 2009 film "District 9," did this in a clever way, echoing the horrors of apartheid by showing us a …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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