Thursday, November 7, 2013

5 Things I Loved About "Blue Jasmine" That Weren't Cate Blanchett

Say what you will about Woody Allen (and pretty much everyone has beaten you to it, from his ex Mia Farrow to Rosie O'Donnell, who, at the height of the Soon-Yi scandal, went off on his character while I was in the audience of her daytime talk show), but the director writes great roles for women.

Diane Keaton, Dianne Wiest, Mira Sorvino and Penelope Cruz all have benefited from his artistry come Oscar night (Wiest twice, while Judy Davis and Jennifer Tilly both scored Oscar nods under his directorial tutelage), and I'm convinced that he could help reboot the stalled film careers of Sarah Jessica Parker and Lisa Kudrow with just one great character apiece.

But first, Cate Blanchett is next in line to ride a Woody Allen creation to Oscar glory. I hate to jump on any bandwagon, but Blanchett's is the safest one on the Oscar trail right now. I wouldn't say hers is the performance of the year (if only because I despise hyperbole custom-built for movie posters), but she's more than earned her Best Actress Oscar buzz, turning one of the most unlikable film heroines in recent memory -- she's like The Real Housewives of New York City's LuAnn de Lesseps, without the Miss Manners complex -- into a woman capable of eliciting a surprising modicum of sympathy.

I wasn't really rooting for Jasmine, as much as I was rooting for her evolvement. The bravery of the movie and of Blanchett's performance is that neither lets her off the hook. Jasmine might be even more despicable at the end of the film than she is at the beginning. And Blanchett allows herself to look unpretty, figuratively and literally, without making that the entire point of her performance. But despite the Oscar buzz, this is no one-woman show. Allow me to spread some love to Blue Jasmine's other MVPs.

1. Sally Hawkins I loved her Golden Globe-winning performance in the 2008 comedy Happy-Go-Lucky, the one that shamefully didn't net her a Best Actress Oscar nomination, and I blinked and nearly missed her in An Education. I doubt that Blue Jasmine will change her status in Hollywood or with the Academy, the film being the Cate Blanchett show and all, but to overlook Hawkins' Ginger is to miss so much about Jasmine.

In all of Blanchett and Hawkins' scenes together, we see Jasmine through Ginger's eyes, and I love that the film doesn't go the predictable route by making them warring siblings stuck in the rut of rivalry. Ginger cheerfully concedes early on that Jasmine is better than she is, the one with the "good genes," so Hawkins is free to create a character who isn't defined onscreen by her resentment of her sister (see the big sisters in Rachel Getting MarriedMelancholiaMartha Marcy May Marlene and Silver Lining's Playbook, and both in Georgia), but is a fully-functioning separate individual. She even gets some scenes of her own. If Woody Allen ever decides to write and direct a Hawkins showcase called Red Ginger that tells the sister's story, I'm so there.

2. Bobby Cannavale I loved him as Will's butch but out cop beau on Will & Grace and as the flamboyant but in dancing queen in Shall We Dance, so why shouldn't I fall in love with Cannavale once again, in Blue Jasmine as Ginger's latest flame? Jasmine would object, of course, his being an underachieving grease monkey and all, but despite the incident with the telephone and the lamp, Cannavale brings a sweet macho vulnerability to Chili.

Jasmine calls him another Augie (Ginger's allegedly abusive ex-husband and the father of her two sons), but I couldn't disagree more. He calls Jasmine on her self-involvement early on (not that she ever tries to hide it), while attempting to be cordial to her. He's a lug, but he's a likable one. That's all on Cannavale and his charm.

3. Andrew Dice Clay I never cared for him when he was a loudmouth comic in the late '80s and early '90s, and his character here is not necessarily someone with whom I'd want to have a few beers -- not that Clay plays him as a guy who cares whether he's lovable. In some ways, though, despite Blanchett's red-rimmed eyes, Clay's Augie is the saddest, most sympathetic character in Blue Jasmine. He loses a literal fortune ($200,000 is a lot of money, even if you won it playing the lottery and didn't technically have to work for it), gets shipped off the Siberia (actually, Alaska), and everyone, including his ex-wife, expects him to just get over it.

The confrontation scene between him and Jasmine is one of the film's brightest and darkest spots. Clay holds back Augie's anger just enough to illuminate Jasmine as the monster that she is, not because she was implicit in her husband's shady business dealings. (The films suggests that she wasn't, but wouldn't she have had to know something to exact the revenge that she set in motion?) Her monsterdom is magnified during their verbal showdown because she doesn't appear to have any remorse. Her only regret is that she has been inconvenienced by the fallout from her own scheme.

4. Alec Baldwin My friend recently ran into Alec Baldwin in New York City, and her review was scathing: "Holy crap. The man is a decaying jackal," she wrote to me in an email afterward. "He walked like a stooped over man of 80, and the grey hair that covered not only his head but his arms, neck and apparently his back was just so unbelievably skeevy. And he had a belly to match his [pregnant] wife's. Ick. His head was also so unusually large for his body."

Yet he still gets cast as the smooth con man who's irresistible to women. And somehow, miraculously, Baldwin still pulls it off.

5. San Francisco We don't get to see as much of my second-favorite U.S. city -- nestled snuggly between New York City and Chicago in my Top 3 -- as I'd like to, and when we do, we don't necessarily see it from its best angles, such as the vantage point at the top of one of its inclines, watching a row of buildings descend downward toward the bay.

Early on, when Jasmine applauds San Francisco as being so European, she actually sounds kind of underwhelmed, or maybe it's sarcasm (as opposed to her more genuine awe when she sees the view from the back of Dwight's home). Her assessment, though, is so on-point. San Francisco is one of the most European of American cities, and the biggest revelation of Blue Jasmine (despite what all the critics are saying about Blanchett's performance) is that despite my three lifetime trips to SF, it's a connection I never made until Jasmine, in her blue, martini haze, made it for me.
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