Movie: "Blue Jasmine"

To get this out of the way as quickly as possible: Cate Blanchett clocks an amazing performance as Woody Allen's Blanche DuBois in this utterly unsurprising and tiresome movie. Oh, and there's a great soundtrack -- I'm definitely buying the soundtrack. As with Allen's "Midnight in Paris," the soundtrack is more entertaining than the wretched movie from which it is hellspawned. Frame by tooth-grinding frame, "Blue Jasmine" demonstrates nearly every tic of Allen's that infuriate me:

  • The way his characters talk in exposition: "Of course, since my husband is a high-flying financier and businessman, I simply couldn't finish my anthropology degree so we adopted his son from a previous marriage and now I'm simply so busy managing our homes in New York and the Hamptons that I barely have time to breathe!" I'm exaggerating, of course, but see how his characters talk in the first 10 minutes or how they introduce themselves later. Real people -- and well-drawn characters -- don't talk like this.
  • The way his characters' lines are so single-entendre; there's no attempt at layering, no attempt at giving the actors any subtext to play. Every line of dialogue is on-the-nose and has zero replay value (unlike the soundtrack!). Count how many times the rough-talking blue-collar characters tell off Jasmine by summing up everything we already know and saying it in the flattest way possible. And also just what a god-awful homage to "Streetcar Named Desire" this movie is. Where's the poetry? Where's the sympathy? Sally Hawkins' (another good performance in a thankless role -- where did her English accent go?) former boyfriend gets his "Stella!" breakdown but it's the B storyline and -- so what, really? Meanwhile, Jasmine retreats to her dreamworld and begins actively making bad decisions that, of course, ensures she'll end badly.
  • Allen's lazy approach to writing and research. Jasmine takes a class to learn basic computer skills. Meanwhile, she's working as a receptionist in a dentist's office -- a dentist's office, in San Francisco, that does not use computers. I mean -- what?? Allen must be remembering how dentist offices worked 30 years ago -- has he never noticed how they look and operate today? (OK, the guy who cuts my hair -- he still uses a big paper appointment book. But not my dentist!)
  • His ongoing obsession with and romanticized contrast of high and low culture. Jasmine and her husband Hal live in rich, palatial homes and apartments with rooms that are tastefully curated, all parallel and perpendicular lines. When she's shown her new beau's empty house, it's a huge empty room that could field a hockey match and sports an I-want-it view of San Francisco Bay. My first thought was, "House porn." Allen's movies dwell on these classier-than-thou settings. (There's a similar scene in "Match Point," except that apartment -- also with floor-to-ceiling windows -- overlooks the Thames.)

    By contrast, Sally Hawkins' small apartment that she shares with her two sons is small, cramped, cluttered, and plays host to her boyfriend's crew as they watch boxing. Jasmine is suffocated by the cage-like atmosphere -- though, golly, it looks a lot more homey than the places where she used to live. The lower-class men all talk like Andrew Dice Clay (or like bad imitations of Brando's Stanley). Every character is either refined or tawdry, and their intellectual speeds barely register on the dial -- they all seemed to finish at the place where they started.

    Of course, of the upper- and lower-crust characters, who do you think will end up happy?

The folks I saw the movie with were surprised by the downbeat ending. I was surprised that they were surprised. To my eyes, absolutely nothing I saw unfold was unexpected.

Cate Blanchett sells her part with conviction, courage, and desperate energy -- her final scene is unglamorous and riveting. But I think she's the one who sells the ending, rather than the thin, insubstantial, and lazy script. Allen's movies more and more seem removed from real life, which is OK, if the world you're creating is involving or the characters you're creating are interesting people I've never seen before. But his movies seem  to be recycling characters and tropes from previous Woody Allen movies, which I think yields little real emotional or artistic value.

I want to tell him to please take off a year or two, spend time with his kids, read some new books, soak up some new experiences, and let his ideas germinate longer before he starts up another production. Please.

The last good movie of Allen's I enjoyed was "Crimes and Misdemeanors," which I think is probably the high-water mark of his dramatic films. The recent documentary on Allen by Robert Wiede is also quite good, especially on his early career, his influences, and his enviable work ethic. And check out Cate Blanchett's turn -- or turns -- in Jim Jarmusch's "Coffee and Cigarettes" -- it's a lark, and she has fun sending up her image.

Enhanced by Zemanta