Wednesday, January 29, 2014

IN A BLUE MOOD



After a long day and falling asleep in front of it the previous evening, I was wide awake last night for Blue Jasmine, and I have to say I don't understand the praise. Despite its nods to Bernie Madoff and Wall Street greed, the movie seems to me to have continued Woody Allen's dispiriting inability to create the illusion of understanding how the real world works. No detail rings true-- not those anachronistic San Francisco-by-way-of-Bayridge palookas seemingly plunked down into the city from another place, another time, another bad movie; or Jasmine's computer illiteracy, which compels her to take classes so she can pursue online interior decorating courses financed by getting work as a dentist's receptionist, a job which, one would think, might require her to be, um, able with a computer; or the tired and familiar flirting with the trappings of intelligentsia and society; or most especially the concept of Jasmine herself, more a derivative literary conceit than a character, which is all it seems Allen is capable of writing anymore, from the top billed down to the bittest of bit players.

The movie feels like a series of ideas for scenes strung together, rather than having the organic flow of drama, and it never lurches more than when Allen starts tying up plot strands on the way to his bleak, pre-programmed conclusion. When Jasmine's facade with a new lover needs to be destroyed, up pops a character out of nowhere to do just that, in a scene so crudely written that it would likely not have passed muster in a college play-writing course.

And we spend the entire movie being made to understand that Jasmine has kept herself blissfully ignorant of her husband's shady dealings in order that her spoiled world of privilege might not be upset-- yet we're also to believe (SPOILER ALERT) that one call from her would be enough to bring the FBI down on him like a swarm of bees? If the feds were going to arrest him, would they not have kept him under their own surveillance and not have needed her help? And just what does she tell them, if she's as incapable of understanding the ins and outs of finance as she has previously insisted, and as her own behavior as Allen has depicted it confirms, that would be so convincing? 

None of this is supposed to matter, I guess, because Allen is counting on Cate Blanchett to seduce us with her neurotic-car-wreck magnetism, and she is watchable, if only to see what pathetic and cluelessly cruel attitudes she's going to foist on her fellow players next. But no one else in the cast seems any more than a placeholder in what passes for the story, from Peter Sarsgaard's moneyed would-be politician (the Karl Malden stand-in), to the mugs faintly echoing Stanley Kowalski-- Bobby Cannavale, good guy, Andrew Dice Clay, less-good guy-- to Sally Hawkins' adenoidal variation on Stella. I didn't even mind that the movie borrows so bluntly from the Tennessee Williams playbook, because I do think it finds its own voice. But that voice is shrill and obvious and short on illuminating perspective, and I was happy to leave it muttering on a park bench, at the award-wielding mercy of strangers who have been and will be far more kind to Blue Jasmine than it left me with any desire to be.

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The evening's second feature, Lake Bell's alleged comedy In a World, about the efforts of one charming motor-mouth’s attempt to break into the high-stakes world of trailer voice-over royalty, was so annoying that I shut it off after 30 minutes. After Blue Jasmine I felt like I needed a laugh, but maybe that movie left me feeling too sour to respond in the way Bell and her rapid-fire cast seemed to want so desperately. I switched over to Letterman, and even Dave's jokes seemed stale and uninspired, so I shuffled crankily off to bed. And now I've never felt more in need of a great comedy like The Lady Eve or His Girl Friday, or a great, ripe character piece like A Streetcar Named Desire, all movies that recognize the real world, that couldn't exist without it, yet which transport us to heights far beyond mundane reality and the even more mundane dramatizations of it.

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5 comments:

testingwithfire said...

Hi Dennis, first-time commenter.

"[D]ispiriting inability to create the illusion of understanding how the real world works"

Precisely. From the reviews, I expected a lot of this film. I thought it was genuinely bad, despite all of the A-list players who showed up. Funnily enough, my favorite performance was Dice Clay's, and I'm not a Dice Clay fan at all. Maybe because he lent just a touch of reality to the proceedings, somehow. Louis C.K. wasn't on screen enough to affect the goings-on either way.

Your conclusion is very moving. I think if filmmakers and critics settle for less continually, that's all we'll ever get. I do think that great films are still being made, but if the majority of high-profile critics fawn over the likes of "Blue Jasmine," even the thinking and feeling filmgoers out there will no longer trust those critics' judgment. That's why, more and more, I come to the independent film blogs like yours first and leave the MSM reviews for later.

I appreciate that you spoke so eloquently on the bigger issue around this rotten apple. Someday I hope to chime in on a post of yours on a film I liked - there have been many such posts already.

Christian said...

Agreed that "Blue Jasmine" is severely undercooked, although Blanchett and even Clay eased the pain of the proceedings for me. I do think Woody has made a couple of interesting, even good dramas in recent years ("Matchpoint" and the underrated "Cassandra's Dream"), but his comedies are weak. "Blue Jasmine" straddles the line between comedy and drama, but balance is rarely achieved.

I'm more disappointed by your underwhelmed reaction to "In a World," a film I have a great deal of goodwill toward. I found it consistently amusing, even sweet. The movie didn't make my year-end best list, but I have a feeling time may be kind to it.

mike schlesinger said...

I liked IN A WORLD... very much, partly because I've been there. During my time at Sony, I was making trailers for some of my reissues and uplift releases, and twice I wanted to use women as voice-overs. You would not believe the shit they gave me about this. I did prevail, but they then actually went to the expense of doing second versions with men reading the same copy (which, having be written for women, sounded especially dopey). Needless to say, both of mine turned out wonderfully, but alas, while the one for WASABI did make it to the DVD and can be viewed on YouTube, the one for THE SEA IS WATCHING did not.

Dave said...

The only interesting aspect to Blue Jasmine for me (other than the dual games of "Spot the Location" and "Hey, I Was Just There!") was that I found it interesting to see what "Streetcar" would be like with an unsympathetic Blanche.

As for "In a World," I have no plans to see it. There was just something about the hype that really turned me off to it; well, that and Ms. Bell.

Tor Hershman said...

I laughed, @ BJ, when no one else did. The sincerity of upper class self-praise 'tis most drolly entertaining, to a point.