by Alex Huntsberger
Blue Jasmine (2013) – Woody Allen (Dir.), Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Louis C.K., Andrew Dice Clay, Bobby Cannavale, Peter Sarsgaard
THE BASICS: This is a movie about the financial crisis. I mean it’s not a movie that’s about the financial crisis. The financial chicanery that sets the plot in motion is more Bernie Madoff than Bear Stearns. But it’s about the financial crisis in a more holistic, spiritual sense.
FIRST SOME PLOT
Cate Blanchett plays Jasmine (originally Jeanette), a Wife of Wall Street who is forced to move in with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) when her financier husband Hal (Alec “I WILL PLAY WORDS WITH FRIENDS WHEN AND WHERE I FUCKING WANT TO” Baldwin) is convicted of fraud and hangs himself in prison. Jasmine, a nervous wreck, attempts to put her life back together, getting a job as a receptionist and taking a computer course with an eye towards an interior designer’s license. Oh, and she also sets about trying to ruin her sister’s life, mostly by throwing a Rip-Torn-in-Dodgeball number of wrenches into Ginger’s relationship with her boorish but good-hearted boyfriend Chili (Bobby Carnavale). Oh, and also in the mix is Ginger’s ex-husband, Augie (the surprisingly not-dead Andrew Dice Clay) whose marriage to Ginger Jasmine previously ruined with some bad financial advice. Louis C.K. and Peter Sarsgaard are also on hand, the former as…well…basically himself and the other as way older than I remember him and that makes me feel weird.
If that plot wrings a bit familiar, it’s probably because you were really cool in high school and read/saw/were involved in a production of “A Streetcar Named Desire”, Tennessee Williams’ lyrical ode to the Dirty South.
Much like Blanche lived in a world entirely of her own choosing, so does Jasmine try to block all the ugly truths that she has been privy too. Her refrain throughout the film is, “Let’s leave the past in the past.” Which is totally fine, except that one can only leave the past in the past when one has, oh, I don’t know, learned something from it. The film, in fact, frequently jumps back to the past, showing Jasmine’s glory years in the lap of East Coast luxury, and what it shows is that Jasmine remained as willfully ignorant back then as she does now. Whether it was Hal’s frequent philandering or his even more frequent financial shenanigans, Jasmine basically stuck her fingers in her ears and went, “lalalalalalalala,” if by “fingers in ears,” you mean, “cash money in her bank account,” and by, “lalalalalalalala,” you mean, “brunching on the weekend? Ugh, how gauche.” From beginning to end, Jasmine exists in a state of denial, much like a great deal of this country did so after a decade where investing in Wall Street was pretty much equivalent to buying stock in a textiles factory that manufactured The Emperor’s New Clothes. We have seen the enemy and it is…umm…us, Except that “us” is played by Cate Blanchett. (Looks in the mirror). Yeah, that’s about right.
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett
So, a lot of “Oscar” performances have that air of holding out one’s hand and yelling, “Oscar, please!” And it’s not that Cate Blanchett’s performance doesn’t seem like it’s gunning for an Oscar. It’s more like she’s an 80’s action hero who takes out an entire cartel’s worth of vaguely ethnic bad guys with nothing more than a Glock, a hunting knife and a pack of chewing gum. She doesn’t so much as ask for an Oscar as she does walk into your office with a bag full of bad guy scalps over one shoulder, the President’s daughter (who she just rescued from said bad guys) over the other one, dumps both of them on your desk, lights up a cigar and then just casually glances at the Oscar clutched nervously in your hand and mutters, “you gonna hand that thing to me, or what?” The lady’s been nominated for 5 Oscars so far and won best Supporting Actress for playing Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator. She won an Oscar for playing a multi-Oscar winner; so, she’s basically not fucking around in the slightest. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her give a ‘bad’ performance.
Like, do you remember that one scene in Lord of the Rings where Frodo shows Cate Blanchett the ring (and, yes, I’m mixing actor and character names: welcome to the Octagon) and Cate Blanchett gets all goggly-eyed and glowing and CGI? Okay, that’s basically Cate Blanchett in this movie. That level of intensity, that level of bone-deep wackadoo, for two hours straight. If it were almost any other actress, it would probably be terrible. But it’s Cate Blanchett, so it’s not.
Jasmine spends the entire length of the movie in a delusion: that she is doing fine and everything is going to be fine and that she doesn’t need to deal with all the fucked up stuff in her past because tomorrow is a brighter day. However, it is very clear that everything is not fine. She’s a middle-aged woman, newly poor, who has no discernible skills and whose refusal to reckon with her role in causing a great many people a great deal of pain is going to catch up to her sooner rather than later. And it is this tension, between Jasmine’s fantasy and the world’s reality that makes up the fulcrum of Blanchett’s performance. It’s like watching someone at a fancy party who really, really needs to pee but keeps pretending like they don’t, that they can hold it in, until eventually their bladder gives way and they just piss all over themselves. Except, instead of urine it’s, like, emotions and stuff.
And it’s fucking awesome. She’s getting nominated for an Oscar.
Best Supporting Actress: Sally Hawkins
Maybe five of you might remember Hawkins from the film Happy Go Lucky wherein she played a woman named Poppy whose outlook on life was, wouldn’t cha know it, happy go lucky. That she managed to make this woman complex, sympathetic and actually quite admirable is a testament to her skill. As the uber-sane ying to Blanchett’s bats hit-crazy yang, she’s wonderful.
But honestly, the most important thing she has going for her is this: she’s playing a supporting female character in a prestige Woody Allen film. Because when it comes to getting Oscar noms (and wins) for the best actress in a supporting role category, Woody Allen is basically Orson Welles. Dianne Wiest won twice, for Hannah and Her Sisters and Bullets Over Broadway; Mira sorvino won for Mighty Aphrodite; and Penelope Cruz won for Vicky, Christina Barcelona. For a male writer/director, especially one who is pretty much confirmed as kind of a crepp (as will happen if you marry your own stepdaughter and are NOT a character from a soap opera) the guy has a knack and, more importantly, a rep for writing good female roles that win Oscars.
I would say that Hawkins stands a very good chance at being nominated, if not outright winning.
Best Supporting Actor: Andrew Dice Clay
Oh man, do the Oscar voters ever love a comeback story. See: Jackie Earle Haley for Little Children, Eddie Murphy for Dreamgirls, Thomas Hayden Church for Sideways and, of course, Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder. (That last one is also attributed to The Wrinkled Fuckers’ love of blackface.) For those of you who have never watched VH1 (which should really change its name to The History Channel: Pop Culture and then eventually start doing shows about whether or not aliens were responsible for Robert Smith) Andrew Dice Clay was one of the biggest stand ups in the world back in the 80s. Motherfucker sold out Madison Square Garden. And he did it with material such as the following.
(Please image this as read by Morgan Freeman)
Hickory Dickory Dock
This bitch was sucking my kawk
The clock struck two,
I dropped my Goo
And dumped the bitch down the block.
Yeah, Jerry Seinfeld he weren’t. Thankfully, the gods of fate saw fit to serve Mr. Dice Clay and his “He Man Woman Haters Club” brand of misogyny his cosmic comeuppance. The guy hasn’t been in the public eye really for the past 20 years. The world moved on, Murphy Brown and Ally McBeal and Liz Lemon all happened, and the world was better for it.
It’s hard not to bring all of this to bear when watching Dice Clay’s performance as Augie, Ginger’s ex-husband and all-around big lug. Dice Clay comes off as a man’s man who has been chastened by the world. Augie and Ginger’s marriage was wrecked by their investing a lottery-winnings windfall in one of Hal’s illusory funds. He’s your classic coulda-been-a-contender who’s given up dreaming big and now just tries to get by. And you know what? Andrew Dice Clay is good. Augie’s exaggerated guido mannerisms all recall Dice Clay at his most horrifically ascendant, but here they are softened. He comes off not as a monster, but a relic. He’s the hardworking blue collar American guy who’s one big mistake was getting involved with those vampire squids of Wall Street. After disappearing during the film’s second half, Augie reappears for a single, critical scene, a puffy pompadoured Deus Ex Machina who appears out of nowhere to (unknowingly) rip up Jasmine’s happy little future like a pig rooting through the dirt for truffles. Honestly, it’s a moment of class warfare on the part of Allen, and executed perfectly by Dice Clay that is incredibly, viscerally satisfying.
Right now I think he’s…not a longshot, but not a lock either. Dice Clay doesn’t have the talent to pull off a comeback quite the same way that mickey Rourke did after The Wrestler, that’s apparent in the movie. But in these early Oscar days, his hat is firmly in the ring.
Best Original Screenplay: Woody Allen
This is category that favors dialogue over plot structure. For instance, Gravity, which I will spill countless words over into the endless vacuum that is
space the Internet has very (very) so-so dialogue but is actually very well structured. It probably won’t get nominated. Blue Jasmine on the other hand is not a tightly-plotted script but on a line to line level is, well, it’s Woody Allen movie. The man knows his way around words, and more specifically, the way that highly-neurotic people wrap words around themselves like a dolphin drowning in tuna nets. Whether or not you prize plot over dialogue, the Academy…hold up, I’m not going to refer to them as “The Academy” cuz that makes them seem like, oh, I don’t know, worthy of our respect, which is not so. They’re voting on “Best Movie” not “Best Cure For Cancer”. (Oddly enough, the winner in that category is actually “prayer,” but only if you’re a practicing Satanist.) I’m not going to call these people “The Academy.” I am instead going to refer to them solely as what they really are. I’m going to call them “The Wrinkled Fuckers.” Let’s start this sentence again…whether or not you prize dialogue over plotting. The Wrinkled Fuckers prefer a screenplay with lots of shiny words. Deal with it. And boy do they love Woody Allen, who polishes his words like a 12-year-old boy polishes his…bald statuette. Allen has already won Best Original Screenplay 3 previous times, for Midnight in Paris, Hannah and Her Sisters and Annie Hall. Dude’s got cred. He’s getting the nom (nom nom).
Best Director: Woody Allen
Allen’s strengths as a screenwriter (he makes movies where people talk at each other and that’s usually about it) are his weaknesses as a director, at least Oscar-wide. In this category, I don’t think that the Wrinkled Fuckers are smoking what Mr. Allen is growing.
Best Picture: Blue Jasmine
It’s written and directed by Woody Allen and starring Cate Blanchett AND there can be up to 10 nominees? If the answer to this question were a 70’s prog rock band it would definitely be…