Movie Review: Blue Jasmine- Woody Allen’s Perceptively Witty and Uncomfortably Bleak Portrayal of Upper Class Entitlement Offers Insight, Bitterness, and Humor

blue-jasmine2If you happen to take the time to look through the dictionary for random words and happen to come across the word “prolific” you’ll most definitely find a picture, or at least a description, of the incomparable writer/director Woody Allen. Whether he’s swinging to the extreme of silliness with films such as Sleeper and Love and Death or moving to the drastic opposing side of seriousness with films like Crimes and Misdemeanors and Husbands and Wives there is always originality to his works even if he’s rehashing familiar themes or revisiting previously explained beliefs (i.e. Match Point, Midnight in Paris). Throughout his illustrious career with well over 40 films Allen has always pushed the boundaries on both comedy and societal criticism creating pieces that are intrinsically linked by his perceptive wit  giving his major key themed comedies an appropriate relative minor key tone where bleakness can seep through the lighthearted cracks. In his latest tragic comedy entitled Blue Jasmine Woody Allen not only seems to be outwardly criticizing high class entitlement and the faults of comparative happiness, but also is bitterly gazing inward at his own life experiences, probably the years of being with Mia Farrow, making this a heavily felt personal film that is as hilarious as it is troubling. What makes Blue Jasmine one of Woody Allen’s best pieces in years is its phenomenal balance between verbal hilarity and austere unpleasantness contained solely in the film’s unconventionally unlikeable protagonist played in full force by Cate Blanchett who gives the film a robust feeling of life. Some might be slightly turned off by Blue Jasmine either due to its disjointed presentation, the choice of an unpleasant lead character, or its apparent mean spiritedness, but truthfully it’s an inspired work that showcases Allen’s best attributes, including sharp dialogue, fully formed characters, piercing wit, and a personal touch that disguises the clear bleakness of them in a broad presentation of joviality. Never fearful to be off-putting Allen has always been able to take risks that doesn’t always yield the creative payoff he inspires to deliver but his latest in Blue Jasmine does indeed take a plunge into riskiness and delivers the appropriate mood, theme, and humor that was clearly intended. Woody Allen has chosen to look inward with Blue Jasmine on what he perceives to be a flawed life but places it in the context of widely felt economic disparity making his latest prolific work an entertainingly humorous and contemplatively thoughtful addition to his impressive, yet not always consistent, filmography.

Screenwriting is clearly Allen’s most notable and generally consistent strength in all of his movies since he always finds creative ways to depict humorous or even uncomfortable truths through the auteur subjective lens of Allen himself. He has creatively turned genres against themselves, including documentaries (Zelig) and science-fiction (Sleeper), and often mocks societal conventions (Vicky Christina Barcelona) but he always seeks to expose some universal aspect that is broad in scope yet intimate in understanding that makes all of his movies so undeniably perceptive, such as the escapism of The Purple Rose of Cairo or the effects of infidelity in Hannah and Her Sisters (or a majority of Allen films for that matter). At first glance Blue Jasmine might appear to be a pure indictment of upper class entitlement or a relevant study on the effects of greedy con artistry, of which it has many admirable criticisms shown through pure characterization alone, but it is deceptively something more. Blue Jasmine has a great deal of personal exaggeration from Allen’s own life such as the adopted child, the mentally unstable wife, the falling in love with another woman, and the attempted ruination of someone’s life based on jealousy which are all deeply personal and bitter feelings held deep inside of Allen and have leaked out into this humorously insightful and personal film. The story follows Jasmine French (Cate Blanchett) a privileged woman fallen from grace after her Bernie Madoff-esque husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) is arrested leaving her with nothing and she’s forced to live with her rather easy going sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco. Allen cleverly depicts these characters with authentic vibrancy and carefully paces his story with the addition of flashbacks that have a dual purpose of revealing to the audience aspects of the story that need conveying but also in serving as a subjective mental flashback that lead character Jasmine relives in her own fragmented and mentally unstable way. The script of Blue Jasmine is multifaceted and might take some time to digest because it’s all at once socially conscious in its portrayal of tricky financial schemes, personal in its use of characters that resemble those in Allen’s own life, and thoughtfully observant in its contemplation on happiness being found within rather than through comparison of other people’s perceptions, materials, or opinions.

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Woody Allen films have always had a particular minimalist cinematic tone where the technical achievements aren’t there for a flashy display because nothing from the use of cuts to the chosen camera placements to the capturing of dialogue is ever wasted giving his films a quick pace, a humorous tone, and an often times appropriate focus on what needs to be seen and heard. There is a subtlety to the visual capturing of Allen’s intended story elements that makes all of his films distinctly his own even when they’re outrageously silly (Broadway Danny Rose), cynically reflective (Crimes and Misdemeanors), or a combination of both strong attributes. With Blue Jasmine his minimalist style definitely enhances all of the story elements in the film from the naturalistic performances, the lighthearted comedic tone, the subjective mental fractures of the protagonist, and the graceful presentation from scene to scene exposing both Jasmine’s instability and the reasons she ended up where she currently lives. Though the film ventures into Allen’s relative minor key tone with its sour and bleak portrayal of an unpleasant character that begins to ruin everything and everyone around her there still lives his distinct and light touch where humor, even the dark kind, makes the experience fitfully entertaining. Allen’s strength in direction lies with his trademark ability to get riveting, authentic, and rich depictions of his fully formed characters from his actors and Blue Jasmine takes a back seat in technical focus to allow the intriguing character study of Jasmine to unfold all of its detailed layers. Some might mistake the intended careful pacing as an under thought presentation but after careful reflection all of the elements involved piece by piece were all carefully chosen and presented with a direct, focused, and clear intention, which isn’t always the case with a Woody Allen film. Blue Jasmine will prove to audiences that Allen is still capable of delivering material that balances the socially conscious, the personal, and the observant that is reminiscent of his far superior works in the 80s. The success of his latest film will most likely be attributed not just generally to all of the fine performances he obtains from his motley crew of actors but most importantly from the master class performance from the always elegant and always engaging Cate Blanchett.

Telling the story of an unpleasant protagonist is a difficult task to undertake but it always helps if you have the aid of a talented actress who can give a riveting and vivid performance that is humorously off-putting and vulnerably fragmented. Balancing the hostile personality traits that make Jasmine a deplorable human being with what is clearly familiar debilitating character flaws is what gives Cate Blanchett’s performance such a paradoxical quality that ends up being delightfully repugnant. Blanchett is at once a parody of previous Woody Allen characters of the upper class privileged variety and yet possesses a unique standing on her own as train wreck that not only can’t be unseen but demands to be seen over and over again. She has the great fortune of being in the company of one of the finest acting ensembles Woody Allen has collected in a long time all of which portray their characters as though they are palpably real people, especially with the odd addition of Andrew Dice Clay as lower class, abusive ex-husband who ends up being the most honest and thoughtful character Allen has created in a notably long while. Sally Hawkins as the overly positive and slightly suggestible sister of Jasmine brings a phenomenal counter balance to the sourness surrounding Cate Blanchett’s entitled self which gives their relationship an intriguing parallel that makes for great on screen interactions between the two. The always great Bobby Cannavale fits in well here with Woody Allen’s material as he is able to balance the dramatic and comedic in a split seconds time making it one of Allen’s most enjoyable character creations that will fit alongside some of the best in his illustrious career. All of these eccentrics grace the screen in complimentary spirit with Cate Blanchett’s tour de force performance that never allows one second of screen time or one ounce of breathing room for you to forget that she is in the middle of a graceful, vivid, and awe-inspiring Oscar caliber performance. Woody Allen films are always noted for their great acting portrayals and Blue Jasmine is no different and perhaps sets itself apart in only one way which is that it is one of the most seamless acting collaborations in the last decade not only for Woody Allen but for all filmmakers aspiring attempting to capture a biting character study and a complimentary acting ensemble backing it up.

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Blue Jasmine has the misinterpreted appearance of being a straight comedy because of its constant verbal wittiness, the light tone surrounding the characters, and the seemingly mocking attitude towards the greediness of financial schemes but really it’s a tragedy of character told through a jovial presentation. Despite the inherent bitterness and the constant repulsive unpleasantness of the protagonist there is absolutely nothing unenjoyable about experiencing Blue Jasmine because the characters feel authentic, the dialogue is witty, the script’s structure is graceful, and the insightful intention isn’t overbearing leaving you with a mentally fragmented protagonist who clearly has a representational meaning for both a socially conscious criticism and a personal reflection from the prolific writer/director. Fans of Woody Allen’s previous works from What’s Up, Tiger Lily to even last year’s disappointment To Rome with Love will find a great deal of distinct and entertaining aspects to Blue Jasmine but they will also find a writer/director who has found his original voice by insightfully pondering new themes instead of rehashing old ones, and this time they include comparative happiness, upper class entitlement, and how the flawed self can be your own worst enemy. Blue Jasmine isn’t as positively escapist as Midnight in Paris or as cynically adventurous as Match Point (aka Crimes and Misdemeanors revisited) but finds an incredible balance between the two allowing Woody Allen to construct an alluring character study opus that beautifully strings together a comedic major key with its appropriate relative minor key making a film that is cerebrally funny, authentically heartfelt, and also uncomfortably bleak.

Grade: A-

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Comments
2 Responses to “Movie Review: Blue Jasmine- Woody Allen’s Perceptively Witty and Uncomfortably Bleak Portrayal of Upper Class Entitlement Offers Insight, Bitterness, and Humor”
  1. RetardedBear says:

    Great stuff, really enjoy reading your reviews. A bit of constructive criticism: An increased font size and more paragraphs would really improve the readability!

    Looking forward to more reviews!

  2. ninjawhale says:

    Great stuff, really enjoy reading your reviews! A bit of constructive criticism: A slightly larger font size and more paragraphs would greatly improve the readability of your reviews.

    Looking forward to the next installment! 🙂

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