Woody Allen, now 77-years old, is dead serious in his latest film, Blue Jasmine, though his emblematic relief-giving humor plays off stereotypes about New Yorkers, the San Francisco landscape, class/cultural differences, and dysfunctional human relationships.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal tribute to the iconic director, his 48th feature, “is based on a story Allen’s wife, Soon-Yi, told him about a woman she knew whose lifestyle became suddenly downsized after a financial disaster. Cate Blanchett (“Jasmine’) plays a pill-popping, vodka-swigging East Side sophisticate married to a Waspy version of Bernie Madoff (Alec Baldwin). When he’s found out, she loses everything and has to move into the San Francisco apartment of her adoptive sister—a bagger at a grocery store—and her two mouth-breathing sons. The story is more serious than comic…”
For me, this flick resembles Crimes and Misdemeanors in its emotionally torturous moments. It’s set apart from nostalgia-filled Radio Days that has a foggy Rockaway Beach backdrop; snatches of benign family feuds, and two boys meeting under the boardwalk to sneak a Yom Kippur snack. Play it Again Sam, falls into the same, mood-simmering category.
When opening credits roll in Blue Jasmine, Allen’s autograph, bluesy mood music has a bell-tolling flavor, especially when a wailing clarinet in ensemble plays “Blue Moon.” (Woody is a long-time clarinet buff, and bistro player) Without doubt, his jazzy idee fixe, has a melancholic flavor that permeates time shift transitions between New York and San Francisco) The first 30 minutes, however, had confusing flashbacks that were better clarified as the film progressed.
Alec Baldwin, a familiar member of the director’s repertory company, turns in a brilliant performance as a slick East Coast venture capitalist, though Cate Blanchett steals the show with her screaming madness, interspersed with suave charm that’s percolating with angst beneath the surface. She’s not always a sympathetic or likable character.
In the opener, “Jasmine’s” a basket case plane passenger, dribbling on about her failed marriage and sex life, unloading her emotional baggage beside a senior citizen seat mate whose raised eyebrows and facial expressions are priceless. (The actress is our own Bay Area jewel, JOY CARLIN, who’s directing my cousin’s play, After the Revolution) I wonder what she has to say about the film, and working with a mega-genius director?
Within the Wall Street Journal spread, Cate Blanchett shares pertinent thoughts:
“This kind of opportunity doesn’t come along all the time. The character’s like a combination of Ibsen, Tennessee Williams and Shakespeare. There’s such electricity in the gap between her knowing and not knowing.”
She’s alluding to her kept, trophy wife role, and the pretending that’s part and parcel of being a society girl, party planner, hostess, fund-raising organizer, and image-maker for a high-profile husband. When he cheats on her, she has to plow through a maze of his infidelities confirmed by second and third party witnesses.
Blanchett’s persona is in stark contrast to her San Francisco-based sister, who’s hooked up with a rappin’, sports-crazed, blue collar worker. Their trio of class differences ignite tensions that rise to crisis proportion.
Allen’s characters are by no means wishy-washy. He cuts a sharp profile for each, making us nervously laugh and cry. We roll with the punches through their self-manufactured melodramas. (His gift resides in capturing and recapturing the human condition)
So how does Woody Allen direct his amazing list of ingenues that include Meryl Streep, Gena Rowlands, Geraldine Page, Judy Davis, Diane Keaton, and Maureen Stapleton, et al?
According to one of Allen’s assistants, “He’s famously non-intrusive…– doesn’t meet the actors beforehand, doesn’t discuss their characters with them and doesn’t believe in rehearsing.”
CATE BLANCHETT: “Woody is incredibly restless, and creates nervous energy on the set. He wants to get it done now.”
When I read these snippets from WSJ, I hastened to hop a Solano bus to Albany’s Twin Theatre for a 4:30 p.m. performance.
Following the flick, I chilled out at Berkeley’s King Tsin Restaurant, and interviewed owner, Albert Lou (not spelled LIU).
Replete with Cultural Revolution commentary, Lou’s mouthful of memories were enticing enough, while the cuisine and ambiance were in perfect pairing.
It was an afternoon and evening well spent, with a dose of needed respite thrown in.
OTHER: (RE: Joy Carlin)