Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Blanchett as Blanche ?

The hype over the new Woody Allen BLUE JASMINE has been deafening, with grateful critics sobbing with joy and naming it his best in two decades, no less. One had to rush to one's local mammoth 10-screen complex for a quiet afternoon screening (just 7 of us in the cinema), and yes - I did like it a lot, not so much for Woody (his script has glaring plot holes, if not craters), but for the mesmerising star turn by Cate Blanchett, finally unleashed with a role she can go to town on. 

Cate of course has been memorable from the start (ELIZABETH, VERONICA GUERIN, NOTES ON A SCANDAL) but her elf queen in the LOTR films or that assassin in HANNA or that comic villain in the last INDIANA JONES did not do much for her.  Of course she got the supporting actresss Oscar for her Katharine Hepburn in THE AVIATOR in 2004 (who else could have played her?), and also played a version of Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes' I'M NOT THERE (she reunites with him for CAROL, based on an early Patricia Highsmith novel). 
In fact Cate is on a roll now with quite a few upcoming and in pre-and post-production. She is also the face of a new Armani scent, and does marvellous red carpet - like Tilda Swinton or Kate Winslet she always looks terrific. (left)

I loved Woody's MIDNIGHT IN PARIS and that last London one YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER and the BARCELONA one was interesting too, but, despite my love of all things Italian, I had no interest in his TO ROME WITH LOVE .... or most of his other recent films. JASMINE gets him back to high esteem, and he has already finished another one. Not bad for his late 70s. 
SPOILERS AHEAD, if you have yet to see it:
After suffering a nervous breakdown involving her wealthy husband's (Alec Baldwin) financial downfall and suicide, a woman (Cate Blanchett) attempts to get a fresh start by moving to San Francisco and living with her sister (Sally Hawkins). She is unable to disguise her contempt for her sister's downscale lifestyle and taste for "loser" boyfriends. Woody Allen's latest film is a variant on A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, in fact its almost a re-write (updated to take in the recent finanncial scandals), with a juicy role for Cate Blanchett as a woman slowly unraveling before our eyes.

Jasmine looks a real ‘Potiche’ (Trophy wife) who may have been deluding herself about her husband's financial scams and is now in the midst of a psychological breakdown - as we see her babbling to the woman next to her on the plane to San Francisco, travelling first class of course. Cate starts as can’t-take-your-eyes-off-her amazing and keeps on going. She is simultaneously lovable, loathsome, comic, and tragic, she also comes across as delusional, lying, and maybe going insane - one could almost say not since the heyday of the young Katharine Hepburn or Bette Davis has there been such a spellbinding turn …Meryl seems colourless by comparison. Sally Hawkins too is terrific as the sister, she was that marvellous Jane Austen heroine Anne Elliot in the recent PERSUASION that I liked a lot (Costume drama) label.

Shades of Blanche and Stanley ?
The story follows the basic outline of STREETCAR (which oddly Blanchett recently played on stage) but takes some interesting turns, for instance, when she tries to better herself by taking computer classes while working as a receptionist at a dental office. But surely a woman like Jasmine would have to be computer literate, and what dental practice is not computerised these days?  It is of course exquisitely embarrassing and pure Allen when the dentist comes on to and practically assaults her … It seems like New York in San Francisco as the guys her sister hangs out with are pure Brooklyn or New York, and for a supermarket check-out girl Ginger, the sister, has quite a spacious apartment and a limitless supply of vodka ...

Then there is the diplomat and aspiring politician (Peter Sarsgaard) she meets at that party - surely he or his family would want to know exactly who she was and all about her past before they go to get that engagement ring?, as Jasmine passes herself off as an interior designer, doing over his stunning house with that view over the Bay. 
But surely, as I read it, Jasmine brings it all crashing down with her phone call to the FBI when Baldwin wants to get serious with his latest mistress, and discard her, as up to then she had been ignoring his financial scams, which also fleeced her sister and her husband out of their lottery win …so she phones the FBI and next thing Baldwin is being arrested in the street ... and Jasmine is left apparantly without a cent as she flies first class to San Francisco with her Louis Vuitton luggage - didn't she have anything in her own name? (Fraudsters usually place their assets in their wives' names to keep them in the family).  So what happens to Jasmine at the end, as we leave her talking to herself on a bench, having it seems burned her bridges with her sister, now reunited with her "loser" boyfriend? Will she too be "dependent upon the kindness of strangers" as she is also carried off to the looneybin ?  In all, a fascinating, contradictory movie, making lots of points, and nice to see Woody using widescreen for a change. 

The next award season should be fascinating: Cate would seem a shoo-in (and seems to have already started her campaign with several tv and print interviews here), but Judi Dench will also be a certain nomination for her forthcoming PHILOMENA which looks like a topical sob story, then there is Sandra Bullock with GRAVITY, and the new Kate Winslet LABOR DAY ... but it would seem its time for Cate to take home the big one, and she has so much more in the pipeline before the Awards.

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