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Review: Blue Jasmine – Riches to rags set to ragtime blues

Posted by on August 2, 2013 – 7:14 pm

Blue JasmineJust before entering the screening for Blue Jasmine, writer and director Woody Allen’s latest look at uppity Park Avenue angst, I made a stop at the nearby Wal-Mart and had occasion to see a man sitting on bench talking angrily to himself about the clothing he was wearing (a gray-camouflage t-shirt – true story.) Now, I don’t mean to make light of mental illness, but this occurrence did add relevance to Allen’s film in which the primary character loses everything she has and is left mumbling to herself in the street; and it made me stop and wonder how “Mr. Angry Clothes” found himself in a similar position.

The titular “Jasmine” is played wonderfully by Cate Blanchett (Lady Galadriel in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films) and is a self-centered woman who has been pampered her entire life, but she is finding it difficult to cope after her slimy husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), is caught cheating on her with several women and is subsequently convicted and jailed for scamming investors a la the Bernie Madoff scandal.

Jasmine (not her real name) loses everything that she’s spent a lifetime of “gold-digging” to obtain and is forced to relocate and move-in with her somewhat dimwitted sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), in a small apartment in San Francisco. Ginger has always played second-fiddle to the hoity-toity Jasmine, but even though she and her former husband, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), lost a fortune to one of Hal’s investment schemes, she’s still willing to lend a helping hand to her “upper-class” sibling.

The film juggles back and forth in time between Jasmine’s former rich lifestyle and her current poor one, as well as between the lives of the two sisters, with Jasmine not so successfully learning to live with the reality of a more meager lifestyle, and Ginger, who has two kids with Augie, juggling between boyfriends Al (Louis C.K.) and Chili (Bobby Cannavale), neither of which impress Jasmine.

Blue JasmineBlue Jasmine is a thoughtful and entertaining character study by Allen, of a person of privilege who has absolutely no idea how to manage life in the “real world” that most of us live in. Although I can only speculate how the eccentric director came by this story, I feel it is possible he simply reverse engineered the life of a derelict like “Mr. Angry Clothes,” whom I mentioned earlier, and threw in some Woodyesque witticism for good measure. That being said, I found this film more amusing than outright funny.

The blues and ragtime soundtrack of Blue Jasmine is one of my favorite parts of this film and perfectly fits the riches to rags story being told. The music includes tunes by Louis Armstrong and King Oliver, among others, and sets a depression era tone for the movie, which examines, at least in part, the Wall Street woes of the past several years.

I’m not a huge Woody Allen fan, and movies about the ultra-rich, whether they are receiving their comeuppance or not, are never really favorites of mine either; but the fine performances in Blue Jasmine together with the fantastic music make it definitely worth a look and great timeout from the explosions and firefights in your adjoining theaters this summer. And it may just have you thinking a little differently about that wacky person you see on the park bench next time. Grade: 7/10

Photos © 2013 Sony Pictures Classics