I’ve recently discovered the joy of going to the cinema by myself. I don’t have to wait around for someone to be available to go with me, which is great because I have a bit of a weird schedule and I know lots of busy people. I don’t have to compromise and see a movie that is acceptable to everyone; I can see a movie I want to see and if is sucks then the only person who suffers is me.
It occurred to me that I could start writing out my thoughts about the movies I’ve seen in some sort of review fashion, so that maybe when I grow up I can get paid to go to movies and write things about them.
So here goes, hopefully the first in a series entitled ‘Watching Movies Alone’.
‘Blue Jasmine’ is Woody Allen’s 2013 contribution to the film industry. I read somewhere that this is a script he’s had for a while and hadn’t made into a film, I couldn’t tell you why not but perhaps it wasn’t the right time, or he was busy doing other stuff, who knows.
My first exposure to Woody Allen properly was when a boyfriend of mine insisted that we watch ‘Annie Hall’. He loved it, and he wanted to share that love with someone he loved. I watched it, I enjoyed it, I didn’t really get it, and I couldn’t have told you I loved it but I gave it my best shot. Since then I’ve had many conversations with people about whether ‘Annie Hall’ is Allen’s finest film, opinion is still divided about that.
Since that time I’ve become more and more aware of Allen’s work. I have been trying to teach myself to appreciate the nuances of the writing and directing of several film makers, Allen being one of them. People have said that he’s a bit hit and miss, and I agree that there are films of his I like/understand better than others. I really enjoyed ‘Vicki, Christina, Barcelona’ for example, but was a bit meh about ‘Midnight in Paris’. That could have been because I couldn’t take Owen Wilson seriously, his voice is so goofy!
But back to the film at hand. The synopsis is basically that Jasmine French (Cate Blanchett) has recently split up with her rich, dismissive, bastardy husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) and has come to San Fransisco to stay with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), while she gets herself back on her feet. Jasmine has been used to the high-society life in New York; living on Madison Ave and filling her days with philanthropic work, leisurely lunches, shopping and hosting dinner parties. Ginger lives in a small apartment with her two children from a previous relationship with Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), a construction worker/small business owner/removalist/whatever else he happens to be doing at the time. Ginger has a new relationship with Chili (Bobby Cannavale), and we are told that he was supposed to move in with her, but has had to put it off while so Jasmine can live there.
Going into this film I knew that it was heavily inspired by Tennessee Williams’ ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, a play I had conveniently studied this semester at uni, and was therefore pretty familiar with. There are times in ‘Blue Jasmine’ that we see the parallels between the two stories very clearly, but there are other times where Woody Allen’s touch shines through. For me, Bobby Cannavale’s portrayal of Chili draws heavily on Marlon Brando’s seminal role as Stanley in the 1951 film adaptation of the play. It’s hardly surprising that Brando’s version has been so influential, not only was he the first person to ever bring Stanley to life, as an original cast member of the first Broadway season, but his performance in the 1951 film version is disturbingly real. While I would suggest that Allen’s writing of Chili was not necessarily intended to channel Brando’s Stanley, there is something in Cannavale’s intense stare and crackling physicality that makes the comparison hard to avoid.
Interestingly, Cate Blanchett has played Blanche DuBois in a stage production of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ to excellent reviews and I felt her intimacy with Blanche gave Jasmine a depth that might otherwise have been lacking. Jasmine is crumbling under the pressure of her misfortune (arguably in part self-made) and Blanchett’s portrayal of her attempts to seem normal while everything is coming down around her are mesmerising. I really felt like I knew Jasmine’s reality.
If I had to make one criticism of an otherwise very strong film it would be that Blanchett’s Jasmine could have had a bit more range in her distress. I felt like I wanted Allen’s direction to reel her in in certain places so that the intense breakdown scenes were more striking.
That being said almost everything about this film was pretty spot on; the cinematography was seamless, the soundtrack developed the emotional connection without being intrusive, the supporting casts’ performances were strong and of course the main cast were spectacular. I enjoy Woody Allen films a lot more when he doesn’t cast himself in them; I always feel like when he’s acting in his own films he plays himself, and I don’t really like that character. I went into ‘Blue Jasmine’ with high expectations and I would say that most of them were met.
I give ‘Blue Jasmine’ 4.5 out of 5. Anyone who likes movies should see this one, but be warned that the ending is truer to the play than it is to Hollywood’s standard ending (which is good coz Hollywood often screws up endings).