Tag Archives: Alec Baldwin

Review: Blue Jasmine

blue-jasmine-cate-blanchett1(dir. Woody Allen, 2013)
(Originally posted at The Hollywood News)

Nestled amongst a seemingly unending European sojourn (his previous took place in Rome, his next 1930s France), Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen’s return to the states since 2009’s shabby Whatever Works and provides the foundation for his most biting, raw and germane film in quite some time. However patchy his 21st century offerings have been, Allen’s tenacious film-a-year approach has paid dividends in numerously rewarding and productive ways, though its arguable that none have been as achingly, bitterly human, or indeed contemporary, as this. What starts as a typically breezy jaunt through feminine angst – accompanied by the usual stereotypically mapped place-setting and neuroses inflected humour, descends into tragedy as quickly as the film’s protagonist waxes boastingly lyrical about her once dexterous life to anyone unfortunate enough to gain her attention.

Blue Jasmine opens with Jasmine (Cate Blanchett, on toxically rousing form), a financially destitute ex-socialite, aboard a flight from New York to San Francisco to seek refuge from the ruinations of her past life. She’s the forty-something widow of a Bernie Madoff-esque businessman-cum-exploiter (Alec Baldwin) who, unbeknownst to his blissfully unaware spouse, fuelled their luxuriously moneyed lifestyle through shady deals and stolen equity. In the wake of her climactic fall from grace – and her husband’s jail-set suicide, Jasmine (refashioned from Jeanette, which “had no panache”) turns to adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) for both a reprieve from the past and an incentive for a new, frantically cobbled together future.

In a steadfast bid for substantiality, Jasmine attempts to rise above what she sees as the menial ineptitude of Ginger’s blue collar existence by deciding to embark on either a career in interior design or resume her education in anthropology, a scholarly background she quickly dropped for a man who promised her bountiful wealth and status amongst New York’s upper crust. Looking to maintain that her stay in San Francisco – already a step-down from her dwellings in Brooklyn – will be as temporary as possible, Jasmine assumes a position of weary advice-giver to Ginger by schooling her in the dos and dont’s of her relationship with greaseball Chili (Bobby Cannavale) whilst simultaneously becoming the object of affection for a lecherous dentist (Michael Stuhlbarg) and a budding congressman, played by Peter Sarsgaard. She also learns that a life of haughty entitlement overshadowed by a murky history ensures that her desire for a second bout of upward mobility is as bottomless as the glass of vodka constantly by her side.

Through sustained flashbacks we see the lofty highs and eventual lows of Jasmine’s marriage to Hal, where cracks were blanketed by her blissfully unaware, somewhat conscious ignorance and a complicity she surmises as herself being a witless bystander in a world she was ill-equipped to navigate, only enjoy. Although the segueing between present and past becomes slightly jarring on an assemblage front, its use as a method to show how the reverberations from one have a lasting, damning effect on the other allows the layers of Jasmine’s cracked and sadly conflicted personality to gestate. It also establishes the dichotomous relationship between Jasmine and Ginger, which is expertly investigated (and written) in the current tense as the characters continue to share vastly dissimilar outlooks on, and expectations from, life and the men who weave in and out.

In a powerhouse, awards-worthy performance, Blanchett excels as the delusional and mentally unstable pill popper, who arrives in San Francisco a washed-up relic of a pre-recession America with a vicelike grip on the material remnants of a bourgeois regime and a tendency to speak to herself (a narrative device Blanchett is fully capable of making appear organic). Once again charting the boundaries between comedy and tragedy, this is the most consistently together Allen has been for a while; his script is dense and ponderous as it tackles relatable and modern issues, something quite alien to his cinema of late. Through the prism of a Tennessee Williams-style outline, Blue Jasmine is another notch on a long list of strong female-led films for the seasoned filmmaker, one that – instead of merely adopting caricatures – retools them to mount a portrait of self-indulgence, privilege and deceit gone crushingly sour. It’s a weighty and progressively devastating drama with a chilly conclusion; an ending where the lyrics of the film’s title track, Blue Moon, ring wholly, hauntingly true for all involved.

Notes on: To Rome With Love

(Woody Allen, 2012)

A typically all-star cast assemble to imbalanced effect in Woody Allen’s 2012 offering To Rome With Love, a jovially lightweight attempt at revisiting the anthology approach to filmmaking which brought his Every Thing You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask (1972) a reasonable amount of acclaim. TRWL is not as consistent or consistently funny as that film (an early paradigm of his retrospective ‘early funny’ period), but it does see Allen bringing himself back into a version of the present day (no matter how disparate the four timelines appear to be) after Midnight in Paris’ (2011) obsessions with the past. It’s all very twee and inoffensively enjoyable, combining passé ruminations on life, sex, love, marriage and celebrity with yet another picture postcard aesthetic idealisation of a great city: this time the titular Rome.

Making a career out of condensing and replaying his auteurist idols’ thematics (and occasionally their cinematographic attitudes) for his own body of work – though fitting them with his own metaphysical concerns and sense of humour, this is Allen sculpting another paean to his cinematic poster boy Federico Fellini, his own Roma (1972) so to speak.

Giving himself his first role since 2006’s docile Scoop, Allen stars in the film’s strongest story as Jerry, husband to Phyllis (Judy Davis, in her fourth Allen film) and father to Alison Pill’s Hayley, an American tourist whose visit to Rome is complemented by a relationship-cum-proposal to Italian pro bono lawyer Michelangelo. Initially reticent towards his prospective son-in-law’s family and their communist sensibilities, Jerry – an unhappily retired director of flamboyant opera, blissfully ignorant to his critics back in New York- becomes enamoured with Michelangelo’s father Giancarlo, a mortician who has the vocal range of an operatic wunderkind but only whilst in the shower. Jerry’s infatuation with bringing Giancarlo’s gift to the stage results in some curiously unorthodox (for Allen, at least) visual jokes that see a range of well-received productions centred on a showering Giancarlo, who scrubs and sings his heart out.

Elsewhere Alec Baldwin stars as John, a celebrated American architect who may or may not be linked to Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), a student studying architecture in the Eternal City, who he bumps into seemingly at random. Inexplicably, John quickly becomes something of a mercurial figure, a wise Jiminy Cricket-like voice of reason quick to give relationship advice to Jack, his girlfriend Sally (a wasted Greta Gerwig) and her sultry friend Monica (Ellen Page), a pseudointellectual bisexual who channels the more caustic women in Allen’s back stock (Christina Ricci in Anything Else, etc). A similarly unanswerable plot is the one that sees Roberto Benigni’s lowly office drone suddenly becoming a star, hounded day and night by paparazzi who strive on uncovering his personal idiosyncrasies (“What did you have for breakfast?” “Do you wear boxers or briefs?”). Much like all the narrative ‘tricks’ that numerously appear in Allen’s high concept works, from The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) to the aforementioned Midnight in Paris, the mysterious and playful concepts depicted in these two segments go unexplained, with the emphasis and much of the comedy (when it arrives) being on their effects on the characters rather than on originations.

Finally, in a variation on Fellini’s The White Sheik (1952), Alessandro Tiberi and Alessandra Mastronardi play Antonio and Milly respectively, a newlywed couple whose honeymoon in Rome immediately gets off on the wrong foot. Losing her way whilst searching for a hair salon (a sequence that sees Allen’s camera taking roving sweeps around the emblematic sites, bolstered by DP Darius Khondji’s translucent cinematography), Milly finds herself stumbling from a film set to the bed of its leading star to the arms of an armed robber, whilst Antonio falls prey to mistaken identity and has to pass off trashy hooker Anna (Penélope Cruz) as his newlywed to a gaggle of stern aunts and uncles. Easily the most disposable footnote in an altogether piecemeal film, this section highlights a lack of footing – in conjunction with the other three’s tighter plotting – whilst showing a square drawing of prostitution; Cruz’s Anna (a sobering flipside to her Oscar winning María Elena in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)) is far removed from Allen’s previous and altogether more rounded prostitute characters, namely Mira Sorvino’s Academy Award winning Linda Ash in Mighty Aphrodite (1995) and even Hazelle Goodman’s Cookie in Deconstructing Harry (1997), his only prominent role for a black actor.

Fragmented, distractible and in need of a more imaginative edit, To Rome With Love is lesser Woody Allen that exists in a lesser Allen epoch, a stage where every instalment in his healthy catalogue is given an unfair amount of critical conjecture. This does meander around a loose spine, the graphic equivalent of his process of sorting through and marrying together his draw full of notes and ideas (a work process shown in Robert B. Weide’s Woody Allen: A Documentary (2011)), but save for dated and laboured quips (and an ill-placed effects shot), there is a pay-off to the scattered mishmash.