Saturday, January 11, 2014

OSCAR WATCH: Blue Jasmine

What would you do if you were transported to an alternate reality? Imagine you woke up one day in a world that seems like your own but with people who speak a weird language, eat unusual food and have alien rituals. It may sound like I'm describing a sci-fi/fantasy movie, but this is actually the sort of impression I got from the protagonist in Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine". In a strange way, this film reminded me of Disney's "Enchanted" in its design.
Much like that film, "Blue Jasmine" begins with a princess who becomes exiled from her world by no fault of her own. In this case, the protagonist isn't an actual princess, but her trophy wife lifestyle had all the glamour of royalty. Manhattanite Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) is on her way to San Francisco, after she finds herself poor and homeless when her husband is busted for fraudulent business dealings. She plans to stay with adopted sister (Sally Hawkins) and start over. When she finally arrives, she realizes that this new society is completely unlike her own.
Jasmine refuses to assimilate however, still wearing her designer outfits and drinking her stoli martinis. She's like Giselle from "Enchanted", singing her happy working song and oblivious to the world around her. On the other hand, Ginger and her friends are content in casual wear, drinking a beer. Despite her outward appearance though, Jasmine is a mess. After a troubled marriage (her husband cheated in both his professional and romantic life) which came to a tramautic end (her husband committed suicide in jail), she has lost all since of herself. Hooked on anti-anxiety pills, she's in complete mental disarray. At times, she can even be found talking to herself.
It's certainly a depressing state of mind, but it's not reflective of the general tone of the movie. What we have here is essentially a comedy of manners, focusing on her amusing struggle to adjust to the life of the common man. It's a perfect showcase of the talents of Cate Blanchett, who seems like she was born to play this role. In real life she projects a natural air of sophistication and she uses that brilliantly. She has a deep understanding of her character, delivering self-centered monologues and engaging in aloof discussions with a farcical upper-class cadence. Even funnier are her disdainful non-verbal reactions to people who show interest in her. She's condescending without realizing it and it's downright hilarious. This is one of the best fusions of actor and character that I've ever seen.
Another standout casting decision is Sally Hawkins as Ginger. Reprising some of the cheeriness from her role in "Happy-Go-Lucky", she makes for a great screen partner with Blanchett. Her "plain Jane" demeanour makes for an amusing contrast with Blanchett's regal poise. She's just as complex a character too, having her own troubles stemming from a paralyzing lack of ambition (in terms of men and her career). You can't help but love her though, as she and her friends are more likely to resemble your own life. Woody Allen's wonderful script gives these actresses and their fine supporting players (Bobby Cannavale, Alec Baldwin, Andrew Dice Clay et al.) plenty to work with and they rise to the occasion. The characters may not know it, but they are effortlessly entertaining.
Overall, "Blue Jasmine is a delightful, breezy watch. Despite this, it brings up the problem with placing expectations on a film. Considering the dark, delusional psychology of the lead character, I expected something more along the lines of "Crimes and Misdemeanors". So as much as I thoroughly enjoyed this film, I felt it lacked the deep intellectual wit that I've associated with Woody Allen. That's more of a personal problem than one of the film itself though. If you go into this expecting a comedy (rather than a probing Woody Allen drama) then I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

Woody Allen is a prolific director and as a result, he is prone to a few duds now and then. This isn't the case with "Blue Jasmine", as it seems primed for a few Oscar nominations and even a win. That win is likely to come from Best Actress for Cate Blanchett's magnificent performance. Also, Best Original Screenplay is a no-brainer for a nomination. Allen is so frequently nominated in this category that they might as well name the award after him. Less certain but entirely possible are nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Sally Hawkins) and Best Picture. Whether the film picks up those nods will indicate how much of a hit "Blue Jasmine" truly is. We'll find out soon enough.

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