Blue Jasmine

Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins in "Blue Jasmine."

Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins in “Blue Jasmine.”

The other day I happened to over hear a conversation between two young women on the street.  One of them talked about having seen actress Scarlett Johansson in a play.  Quickly flipping through my mental inventory of recent Broadway plays, I realized that she must be talking about the production of Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” which closed this past March and did, in fact, star Ms. Johansson.

The young woman proceeded to describe the play to her friend:  “It was a real play.  Like they talked for three hours.  It was really boring.”  Clearly this was someone who went to see “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” completely unprepared and was there only to see Ms. Johansson.

I wonder what this anonymous woman on the street would think of writer/director Woody Allen’s very good new movie, “Blue Jasmine,” lightly based on another Williams play, of which she probably also has no knowledge, “A Streetcar Named Desire.”  Would this culturally deprived creature even know who Woody Allen is?  

“Blue Jasmine” might be best summarized as a “A Streetcar Named Desire” meets Bernie Madoff.  Here Allen demonstrates an interesting mix of classic theatre with fairly recent events. Cate Blanchett seems to be having a devilishly fun time playing the title character, Jasmine, a rudderless, insecure, pill popping, martini drinking, modern day Blanche DuBois.

Jasmine, once a pillar of New York Society, fell from grace as the result of her husband’s financial indiscretions.  Having nowhere else to turn, she has traveled to San Francisco to be taken in by Ginger, her working class sister (Sally Hawkins) and Ginger’s two sons.  It becomes a fish out of water story as Jasmine tries to adjust to her new surroundings and class adjustment, not the least of which involves Chili, Ginger’s Stanley Kowalski like boyfriend, well played by Bobby Cannavale.

The film’s cross cutting, flashback structure (nicely done by editor Alisa Lepselter) fills us in on Jasmine’s back story and keeps the over all pace of the film quite lively. At times I had to remind myself in which part of the story the film was taking place.

As is the case with many of Allen’s movies, “Blue Jasmine” has an ad libbed feel, that you do not get with too many films.  I pictured the cast just being thrilled to be in a Woody Allen film and having a good time doing it, even those given smaller roles.  For example, popular comedian Lewis CK, has a fairly minor part.

I enjoy the fact that Allen generally prefers to shoot his scenes in wide, master shots in which he seems to give his actors free reign in terms of their movement and dialogue.  In interviews Allen has said that he does not have the patience to shoot coverage, meaning additional shots (medium shots, close ups) that might be needed in editing.   The result is more interesting visually, and performance-wise, than traditional cutting.

Mr. Allen’s casting choices for “Blue Jasmine,” are eclectic and well thought out.  They include Alec Baldwin and, in addition to Lewis CK, comedian Andrew Dice Clay (out of what hole the latter has crawled I know not, but he has been well cast).  The big draw here though  is Blanchett.

“Blue Jasmine” is playing locally at City Cinemas Village East, 1000 Third Avenue and Angelika Film Center, 18 West Houston Street.

Blue Jasmine, Director Woody Allen, 2013,

Sony Pictures Classics, 98 minutes, rated PG-13

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on August 7, 2013, in New and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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