BLUE JASMINE (2013)
Directed by Woody Allen
Sony Pictures Classics, 98 minutes, PG-13.
Cate Blachett’s titular performance raises the only interesting question in Woody Allen’s latest film: Can a person win a Best Actress Oscar for starring in a putrid film? Make no mistake about it–this is a very bad film indeed. Woody Allen has been cranking out films like a latter-day Mack Sennett and, frankly, I wish he’d just stop–he hasn’t had anything to say for decades, yet he keeps saying it.
Jasmine has the world on a string–a very thin, frayed one as it turns out. She’s married to Hal (Alec Baldwin), a world-beater investor who lavishes her with furs, jewels, designer duds, a beachside mansion, a stepson, and the wherewithal to live as high-rolling New York socialite/charity maven. He even promises to help Jasmine’s working-class sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins) and her mechanic husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) invest windfall lottery winnings in ways that he promises will relieve their money worries forever. Who couldn’t see this coming? Hal is as shady as the rainforest, and as crooked as the tail of the pig he truly is. And when piggie Hal goes to the abattoir (federal penitentiary), Jasmine goes from riches to rags.
Pretty nice rags, though. To recover from her nervous breakdown and rebuild her life, Jasmine flees New York for San Francisco, where now-divorced Ginger lives with her two children. The new tenant she hoped for was her airheaded boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale), not her condescending, pill-popping sister. In one of the film’s many continuity errors, Jasmine is supposed to be flat broke, but she always seems to have cash for taxis, restaurants, booze, and glamorous threads, the last of which she wears to her community college courses and beneath the smock she wears at her job as a dental office receptionist. Blanchett is terrific as a woman on the verge. She plays Jasmine with such icy calculation that we come to see her as Hal’s feminine counterpart–one who will either scheme her way to the top, or join him in an Icarus-like crash and burn. That is to say, Jasmine will either land a new Hal, or become one of those medicated street people who wander about talking to the air. Her performance is reminiscent of that of Gena Rowlands in the 1974 classic A Woman Under the Influence– a volcanic combination of sophistication and psychosis.
I suspect that Allen was trying to show the values and worldview gaps between the haute bourgeoisie and the working class. The problem is simple: Donald Trump understands the working class better than Woody Allen. As a result, once Allen steps out of the world of cocktail parties, art openings, trendy restaurants, slinky dresses, and jazz bars–is he aware that any other types of music exist?–he doesn’t have the slightest idea how people talk, act, play, or work. As a result, his take on workaday schmoes is more insulting than Jasmine’s. Dr. Flicker’s (Michael Stuhlberg) attempt to grope Jasmine is ham-handed, creepy, and insulting to the dental profession. Allen also portrays Ginger as if she’s a trailer-park low-life ready to bed any guy who feeds her a line. (Her apartment, by the way, seems pretty nice for a woman who is supposedly working-class poor.) And are we supposed to believe that Chili has a heart of gold? He’d better have one, because Allen’s depiction of his mental acuity places Chili somewhere between a potted plant and a Labrador retriever.
Where will Jasmine end up–in Marin County, or San Francisco’s Langley Porter Psychiatric Hospital? In a story this poorly told, not even Cate Blanchett can make me give a damn. And I say, no, to an Oscar for the same reason I don’t think a baseball player on a last-place team should get a Most Valuable Player award.Who needs the magnificent Cate to primp the feathers of a turkey?