MRR Review: "Blue Jasmine"

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A compelling life story about a woman in crises who heads to San Francisco, where she reconnects with her sister.
3.5
Movie Review: "Blue Jasmine"

Rating: PG-13 (mature thematic material, language, sexual content)
Length: 98 minutes
Release Date: July 26, 2013
Directed by: Woody Allen	
Genre: Drama

"Blue Jasmine" tells the story of Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), a New York socialite who is used to lavish parties thrown at the expense of her hotshot husband Hal (Alec Baldwin). In the opening scenes, instead of hosting one of those parties, she is yammering on to her disinterested seatmate aboard an airplane bound for San Francisco. She is traveling to the west coast to live with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) and her family because she no longer has a place to stay in New York now that her marriage to Hal is over.

Upon arrival, Jasmine quickly pours herself the first of dozens of cocktails she will drink as she begins to wallow in self-pity over her broken life. Through a series of flashbacks, the audience gets to see just how high she used to fly, and how quickly she came back down to earth with a big thud. It turns out that Hal was a philanderer who didn't seem to care what effect his cheating might have on Jasmine. He also took big risks with his business, ignoring the imminent legal danger because he was an egomaniac who didn't think he would ever get caught. The government catches up with his shenanigans, leading to the liquidation of all his assets. Now a clueless Jasmine has no home, no money, and no real skills to try and get back into the workplace. She turns to her sister for help despite the fact they have barely spoken in years and despite her not even having met Ginger's children. There is history between them, including a business deal gone awry back when Ginger was married to sweet schlub Augie (Andrew Dice Clay). 

Once in San Francisco, Jasmine takes a job in the dental clinic of Dr. Flicker (Michael Stuhlbarg), who hires her even though she can't type and doesn't even know how to use a computer. Deciding she needs companionship, she begins dating Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) regardless of the fact he clearly only wants her to help him fulfill his slimy political ambitions. Jasmine is so broken that she doesn't seem to care and continues to drink and pop pills as she goes further and further down the rabbit hole of despair.

The film marks the first time in three years that Allen has set a film in the United States rather than somewhere overseas, such as with the superb "Midnight in Paris" and "To Rome with Love." It's no surprise that part of the story is set in Allen's beloved Manhattan; the writer/director has made many movies that are practically love letters to New York City. The surprise is that he sets the present-day part of "Blue Jasmine" in San Francisco, which is quite different from New York. Allen seems to be intrigued by the slower pace and sometimes Bohemian style of San Francisco, although this is all juxtaposed with the turmoil that Jasmine finds herself in. The flashbacks to Manhattan are all set in happier times, but it is all façade, like a long row of cinematic dominoes waiting to fall over. Does this all mean that Allen has fallen out of love with New York? Probably not, but it is fun to see him explore other cities, such as he does in this film.

Blanchett is such a fine actress that moviegoers who are familiar with her work in films such as "Elizabeth" or her Oscar-winning turn in "The Aviator" expect greatness. They get it here; Blanchett plays Jasmine as a woman on the edge whose life looks nothing like it did just a few months earlier. The way Jasmine treats those around her, she shouldn't really elicit much sympathy, but Blanchett manages to get the audience on Jasmine's side anyway. The only real acting surprise in the film is from Clay, who stuns as a tragic figure who got dealt a really bad hand in life. The comedian is in the middle of a career renaissance of sorts that started with his recurring role on the final season of HBO's "Entourage" and is punctuated by his dramatic turn here. If he can capitalize on the momentum he'll surely receive from this film, perhaps he can have a second career as dramatic actor.

As is the case in most of his films, Allen both directed the film and wrote the screenplay for "Blue Jasmine." Though he does a fine job of directing as usual, it is the screenplay that really stands out here. It is a character study with lots of introspection that will have the audience questioning if their lives could be upended like Jasmine's due to a cruel twist of fate. It's a highly dramatic movie that is unlike anything else in movie theaters this July, making it the perfect counterprogramming to the usual blockbusters of the summer season.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5