Movies: "Blue Jasmine" | Arts & Culture

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Movies: "Blue Jasmine"
Movies: "Blue Jasmine"

After his disappointing “To Rome with Love,” Woody Allen is back in top form with this heartbreaking comedy, loosely based on “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

 

Our modern-day Blanche DuBois is Jasmine (she changed it from Jeanette), played to perfection by Cate Blanchette.  We first see her prattling on to an unlucky seatmate aboard a plane landing in San Francisco, where she will seek the kindness of strangers and her estranged sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins, always wonderful).

 

Through ongoing flashbacks, we see Jasmine’s former life in New York with rich, charming Hal (Alec Baldwin), who turned out to be a Bernie Madoff-type huckster, affably cheating on his clients, the government and his wife.  Among his victims were Ginger and her former husband Augie, played remarkably well by the once-infamous lowball comedian Andrew Dice Clay, now older and a lot slimmer.

 

So here is the new Jasmine, down to her last Vuitton suitcases full of designer clothes and handbags, desperately gulping vodka and Xanax and loudly talking to herself at inopportune moments about her past life.  It doesn’t help that by moving into her sister’s low-rent apartment, she’s displacing Ginger’s boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale), whom she considers far beneath her -- you keep expecting him to bellow “Stella!”  at some point.

 

So she sets out to find new men for both her sister and herself.  It turns out they are shlubby Al (comic Louis C.K.) who makes a big play for Ginger, and polished Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), a diplomat with political ambitions and a swanky house in Marin County.  But true to the rules of Tennessee Williams, neither prospect will pan out.

 

With cinematography by Javier Aguirresarobe, a Spanish cameraman who shot Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” as well as two of the “Twilight” movies, and a music score featuring such traditional jazz greats as Louis Armstrong, King Oliver and Mezz Mezrow (not to mention a killer version of “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Lizzie Miles, complete with lyrics in French), this is a gorgeous movie.  Its scenes of San Francisco, New York City and the Hamptons are sumptuous, and the look inside homes from Jasmine’s past life will delight devotees of “The World of Interiors.”

 

Woody Allen certainly knows how to cast and stage a movie, but his screenplay still falls short of anything approaching actual American language.   There are moments where the dialogue thuds to the floor and his early exposition sounds like it was written by an amateur playwright.

 

No matter.  The key to this movie is its brilliant ensemble, headed by Cate Blanchett.  Her performance as the scrambled, haughty and helpless Jasmine will surely lead to an Oscar nomination.  Sally Hawkins is also terrific as the sister who never made it beyond bagging groceries.  Cannavale is powerful as the blue collar guy pining for Ginger and hurt by Jasmine’s snobbery.  And Dice Clay surprises us all with his sensitive portrayal of a wounded working stiff who had his big chance and lost it.

 

“Blue Jasmine” is rated PG-13 for its adult themes.  I give it an A for acting.

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