MOVIE REVIEW: Blue Jasmine

How much of the past can we shed, and how so, before we cross that line between lying and just moving on?

It’s true: after over 30 years of watching Woody Allen movies, I have had to limit myself to those that review well. That’s because bad Woody Allen films are perhaps more painful to me than the bad films of other writers and/or directors.

I watched Midnight in Paris, which I liked. I avoided To Rome with Love, because it was critically savaged. Perhaps if I were seeing as many movies as I did 15 or 16 years ago, I would be more willing to take cinematic risks. Blue Jasmine got mostly great reviews, and understandably so.

But the title Jasmine is a bit difficult to like. She’s this odd mixture of two characters, one real, one fictional. She’s part Ruth Madoff, the wife of Bernie, the Ponzi scheme king, who claims that she was oblivious to his financial shenanigans that ruined other people’s lives. She’s also part Blanche DuBois of Tennesse Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, with her suddenly needing the kindness, if not of strangers, then of her estranged, lower class, sister Ginger living a continent away.

Is it just a coincidence that the BLANCHE character is played, and brilliantly so, by Cate BLANCHETT? She will likely get some nominations, come awards season. Ginger is played by Sally Hawkins, who I enjoyed in 2010’s Made in Dagenham. She’s also fine here as a character trying to negotiate between her beau, Chili (Bobby Cannavale), and her sister.

Necessarily to the plot, the storyline goes from present to past, no more effectively when Jasmine is in a second-hand guitar shop and discovers the reason for yet another estrangement.

Also very good in their roles are Alec Baldwin (who looks a little too much like that guy from 30 Rock), Peter Sarsgaard, and a great revelation to me, Andrew Dice Clay, a comedian I could not stand in his heyday, whose character may be the moral center of the whole story.

I should say that, at the end of the film, I am sympathetic to Jasmine, just a bit. And worried.

The movie got me thinking about the process of reinventing oneself. How much of the past can we shed, and how so, before we cross that line between lying and just moving on? Movie stars used to do it all the time; Marion Morrison became JOHN WAYNE, and Norma Jean Baker, MARILYN MONROE, for good or ill. I do have some examples in mind from my circle of acquaintances, but it’s not for me to say.

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