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Allen's 'Blue Jasmine' is a great character study

 Posted: 2:00 AM August 29, 2013

Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine" is not sprinkled with Allen's signature one-liners. Although there are moments of pathos that reach for a smile. This film is instead an astonishingly well-acted character study of a woman, Jasmine French (Cate Blanchett), who has transformed herself (given name Jeanette) into the privileged and entitled wife of a Wall Street financier (Alec Baldwin), and lives in Manhattan and Hamptons splendor until she doesn't.

The film opens with Jasmine flying to San Francisco to move in with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), and her two pre-teen sons. Clearly, she's a mess, her eyes red-rimmed, her nose pink from what will soon be revealed as Jasmine's ordeal. This is a woman of upper-crust financial nobility, whose life is, like a fragile Steuben vase, showing hairline cracks that are ever widening.

Arriving by cab and standing in front of her sister's walkup in the city's Mission District, she looks around, her face filled with judgmental surprise, and asks the cabbie, "Where am I, exactly?" A question that Jasmine will ponder over and over in this wonderfully written and constructed narrative.

Blue Jasmine

98 min

Rated R

The Spectacular Now

95 min

Rated R

Her loss, it gradually becomes clear, is so total as to be beyond her ability to comprehend. This is all so surreal; look where she's living; it couldn't be happening to her. Not to Jasmine French.

Allen, through seamless flashbacks, shows her at leisure, living a life of shopping and dinner parties, surrounded by people she assumes are friends and not simply acquisitions, like so much designer furniture. Every scene of Jasmine's previous life is suffused with a golden glow, contrasted by the deeply blue Atlantic. Or saturated with those insulated, elegantly coiffed moments wherein she moves from named department stores to cabs to her spacious Upper East Side apartment.

Juxtaposed to those scenes is Jasmine walking through Ginger's low-rent digs, every room bereft of what Jasmine considers to be style. Clearly, all is a haphazard potpourri, as if decorated from countless garage sales. Looking around, she thoughtlessly comments, while pouring a tumbler of Stoli with a tab of Xanax as a chaser, "I don't know how people can breathe with low ceilings."

But to Allen's credit, this is not a film about the salt-of-the-earth working class vs. the shallow and ultimately empty lives of the rich and richer. It is, instead, an insightful examination of this singular woman who assumed that her life was what it would always be, until it wasn't. And to her chagrin, she finds herself standing on a seedy, urban street, stripped of all that affirmed who and what she was.

Blanchett gives a performance that is so good it aches. She inhabits Jasmine with every gesture, every nuanced facial tic, creating a persona standing on an emotional precipice, desperately held together by psychological duct tape.

It is a portrayal absent ego, for Jasmine's face is perpetually ravaged by loss, pummeled by memories, signaling with every glance that she is incapable of fully confronting a life for which she is completely unprepared.

Blanchett's tour de force portrayal (along with a superb cast) is not to be missed. It's a bravura achievement. As is Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine."

"The Spectacular Now"

It is regrettable that the producers of "The Spectacular Now" have not given it a harder push, for it is a rare coming-of-age film that is both unsentimental and honest, one in which the adolescents are neither gratuitously obsessed with that banal search for sexual conquest nor are they shallow and mean-spirited, their youthful issues trivialized.

"TSN" is about two teens: Sutter (Miles Teller), the senior class social butterfly, neither jock nor nerd, but simply gregarious and charming, and Aimee, the antithesis, also a senior, shy and reclusive and a bit of a school geek.

Aimee finds Sutter early one morning sound asleep on a neighbor's lawn. She is delivering her mother's paper route and gingerly wakes him up. He insists on joining her on the route (he can't recall where he left his car), and though they have passed one another in the halls for years, he sees her for the first time.

And so begins an improbable relationship that slowly matures into something neither could have foreseen.

Both are without fathers. Sutter's (Kyle Chandler) has been long absent from his life. Aimee's has died. But Aimee — bright, deeply kind, task-oriented, having always resided on the fringes of high school — is completely taken with the idea that Sutter could actually be her boyfriend (her first), and so is willing to compromise some of her core values to keep him — such as drinking (Sutter is a borderline alcoholic) while risking a great deal of herself to have him completely.

The performances of Teller and Woodley are remarkable. These two young people capture a reality of character — the contradictions and latent insecurities — rarely seen in this too-often-predictable genre. "The Spectacular Now" is, well, spectacular.


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