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Cinema Signal: An actress and a performance to behold. Green light. MOBILE: |
. "Blue Jasmine"

After making a film with his legendary director, actor Bobby Canavale shared his observation in an interview that casting is a primary component of Woody Allen's directorial method. We see it in every frame of this film.

To this Allen fan, "Blue Jasmine" brings a sigh of relief after the successful but, to me, too dreamy fantasy, "Midnight in Paris." What he works with here, besides comedic satire, is the limitless talent of Cate Blanchett, who brings an edgy, studious interpretation of a psychological pathology that's glamorous and unbalancing. Her portrayal, of course, rests on an almost surprisingly mature script by Allen that will take his ouevre to a new level of tragedy, wit, and dialogue that an actor would die for the chance to utter.

By the average person's standards, Jasmine (Blanchett) is not a very good person. Born poor, she's been bred into the sanctums of great wealth through a fortuitous marriage to Hal (Alec Baldwin), a businessman whose financial exploits are not something either he nor she wants to share. While she professes to her elite circle of superficial lady-buddies her lack of understanding and profound disinterest in Hal's work, she wants everyone to know that she's perfectly content to enjoy her golden life without getting into what keeps her there.

While that may not be much of a character failing, her disinterest in her family or anything that would remind her of her prior life is. She just doesn't want THAT life spoiling the one she's in now. Which, of course, is a honeybee of denial that's going to sting her you-know-where.

Allen doesn't tell his story in a straight timeline and, in an early flashback, we do see that she once hosted a visit by her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) and husband-in-law Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) for a visit to her palatial digs. Not that she felt a need to show off, of course.

Later, we get to see what led her off the cliff from glittery Park Avenue and a mansion in the Hamptons when Hal kicks Jasmine out when she finally realized he'd been cheating on her for years and accuses him of it. Well, you know what they say about a woman's fury and scorn. Jasmine (self-named from Jeannette) this is where we find out just how much of an understanding she's had about how he made his money. If she's not going to get any of it, at least she has a means of leveling the playing field.

Which leads her to the seedy Mission District of San Francisco and to Ginger's door; pleading poverty after her plane ride in first class even as her silent appraisal of Ginger's apartment shows just how beneath her dignity she considers it. But need, under her circumstances, trumps dignity and rent-free harbor while she figures out how to make a living wins out. Augie's no longer in the picture, but he's been replaced by boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) who isn't shy about ridiculing Jasmine's hypocrisy.

Blanchett is pure elegance as she confronts the challenges, even as we pity the downward spiral of neurotic dissipation that she takes us into with little relief. In the scene with eventual rescuer Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) later in the story, when she looks over his furniture, she's nothing less than exquisite in the wardrobe she wears with fashion magazine perfection (Costume Design by Sonia Grande). Her character obviously has the means to clothe herself for any situation such as her ultra-chic get-up at the party where she meets Dwight, all of which strains belief in what she manages to do on the salary of a Dentist's secretary.

Allen plays with the theme of societal extremes and the trap that springs on one woman when living the dream turns into the nightmare of reality.

As representatives of the working class, Hawkins, Cannavale and Clay are the perfect contrasts, and it's here most of all where you see the astuteness of the casting. These actors were born for these roles.

Baldwin, equally suited to conveying the self-satisfied cheat with charm. and delivers one of his more memorable portrayals, is in top form. Sarsgaard cuts it as a variation of dashing, superficial rich boy with a foregone destiny and agenda. Hawkins nails her hurt-but-forgiving sister in her rich and blankedly honest way -- possibly her best work to date. She'd be ready to take over the picture if Blanchett gave her half a chance.

All this is very good, but it doesn't preclude a few jumps in logic. Allen isn't above a timeworn deus-ex-machina device to force on his climactic non-resolution. But, then, I doubt anyone will be carping about Augie's cheeky reappearance in Jasmine's wreckage of a life in a critical moment. The script is otherwise too good.

Critics have compared "Blue Jasmine" to the Bernie Madoff scandal, but it has nothing to do with a ponzi scheme (that we know of) and the Madoffs had no such marital breakup. Comparing it to Blanche Dubois in "Streetcar Named Desire," a part she played on stage to hit reviews, is more applicable. A few people have also suggested Allen's ex-wife Mia Farrow's style of self-involvement playing a part in his creation of Jasmine. Is this "getting back at her?"

In any case, Blanchett delivers at least one soliloquy which all but ensures her an Oscar nomination. As for the grand theatricality of the interpretation, it fits the character of a woman who sees herself as the star of her show even when she's obliged to reinvent herself.

A more germane criticism might be the lack of an arc in the character, but redemption is not in the cards for this babe. One interesting aspect of the film is that, in the decision he made to deny his character's deep-rooted instability an escape, and thereby a resolution, there is the possibility if not likelihood that Allen consciously went for his European influences, not the American. Of course he knew what that would mean to such things as boxoffice receipts.

Well known for his admiration of Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, calling him "probably the greatest film artist since the invention of the motion picture camera," Allen the disciple is, perhaps, inspired by his idol's psychological depth as much as by his stunning star's radiant talent to probe into social convolution and neurotic stress. It's a performance highlight of the year, of his work and a thing to behold.

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                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Please don't post spoilers! Jasmine's betrayal of her husband to the FBI is a shocker in the film, but not if you read this review first (which I did not).

                                                           ~~ Kevin Schon 
[Ed. note: Thanks, Kevin. I had a look at that section and made a few edits.]

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Sally Hawkin and Cate Blanchett
sister Ginger and Jasmine imagining a new life.

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