Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Woody Allen certainly puts the blue in Blue Jasmine

If I was at a loss for a good, thought-provoking post-Oscar film until now, Woody Allen has just managed to turn that around... and so much more. Allen's latest drama, Blue Jasmine, is perhaps the most realistic look at human relationships, wealth, and mental illness the writer-director has put forth to date. It is also unquestionably the most solid drama since his 2005 tense tennis murder mystery, Match Point.

Blue Jasmine explores the life of Jasmine, played by the gloriously talented Cate Blanchett, during two distinctly different time periods. The film toggles between Jasmine's earlier, wealthier and more glamorous upper east side married days, to her current husband-less, broke, and on-the-edge state. After Jasmine's "departure" from her late husband, a wheeling-and-dealing financial fraud (Alec Baldwin), her what-was-once posh Upper East Side / Hamptons life quickly morphs into a disastrous meltdown of despondence and mental anguish. Over the course of the nearly two-hour drama, we literally watch as life drains from Blanchett's Jasmine. She struggles to keep her head above water in her new-found "menial" job as a dental assistant, becoming consistently flustered by the need to maintain an up-to-date dental day planner. The experience of watching Allen's compelling fantasy-meets-reality saga is equivalent to watching a gradual human train wreck take place on screen. The film is rich with themes of marital dischord, class tension and mental madness without feeling forced. It is, after much delay, at last another display of Woody Allen genius.

In addition to Ms. Blanchett and Mr. Baldwin, the film is also quite pleasantly cast as a whole. Bobby Cannavale perfectly embodies the essence of Jasmine's sister Ginger's, terribly blue collar (perhaps an intentional double use of the word blue on Allen's part of perhaps just a fortunate grammatical coincidence) boyfriend, Chili. Blanchett's Jasmine constantly talks down to Cannavale's Chili, insisting her adopted sister should "find herself a decent man" superior to Chinatown-inhabiting-mechanic Chili. We also see a cameo from Louis CK, playing the role of Ginger's momentary male misstep. Ginger (Sally Hawkins) meets Louis CK at a party, commences a short-lived affair with the fun-loving guy who she later discovers keeps a wife hidden at home. While brief, Louis CK's presence in  the film does not disappoint.

Mr. Allen's Blue Jasmine, a long-overdue re-entrance into the human drama genre, aptly places him right back into the pinnacle of 2013 cinematic brilliance. Disturbing - check. Real - check. Raw - check. And that is exactly the place any proper Woody Allen fan would expect him to land a come back. So let's all take a deep breath, maintain our own sanity and raise a glass to commencing Oscar 2014 countdown.

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