Jasmine French used to be on the top of the heap as a New York socialite, but now is returning to her estranged sister in San Francisco utterly ruined. As Jasmine struggles with her haunting memories of a privileged past bearing dark realities she ignored, she tries to recover in her present. Unfortunately, it all proves a losing battle as Jasmine's narcissistic hangups and their consequences begin to overwhelm her. In doing so, her old pretensions and new deceits begin to foul up everyone's lives, especially her own.Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Woody's Sharply Rendered Update of "Streetcar" Anchored by Blanchett's Brilliant Blanche-Like Turn
If you want to see this year's master class in screen acting, you need to watch Cate Blanchett's mesmerizing performance as Jasmine French, a delusional Park Avenue socialite wife in Woody Allen's 45th directorial effort, a sly, bicoastal update of Tennessee Williams' classic "A Streetcar Named Desire". As the film opens, her impeccably dressed character has hit rock bottom after her financial wizard of a husband is arrested and her assets are liquidated. In the throes of a nervous breakdown, she arrives in San Francisco and moves in with her kind- hearted sister Ginger who lives a modest, blue-collar life in a tiny apartment on the edge of the Mission – on South Van Ness near 14th Street to be exact - with her two hyperactive sons. You can tell Jasmine is not only out of her element but quite judgmental about how her sister's life has turned out. The irony of Jasmine's patronizing attitude is that she is a habitual liar who is so angry about her destitute circumstances that she frequently talks to herself. The story follows the basic outline of "Streetcar" but takes some interesting turns, for instance, when she tries to better herself by taking computer classes while working as a receptionist at a dental office.
Allen has crafted his film into a clever juxtaposition of current and past events that feels jarring at first since it reflects Jasmine's precarious mental state but then melds into a dramatic arc which resonates far more than a straightforward chronology could have allowed. As a writer, he has become more vociferous in his dialogue without losing his wit. He doesn't pull punches when he showcases confrontations between his characters, whether it's between the two sisters, men and women, or people from different classes. Hostility can come in flammable torrents or in thinly veiled remarks. That Allen moves so dexterously in tone is a testament to his sharp ability in drawing out the truth in his actors. Blanchett is a wonder in this regard because there is something intensely fearless in her approach. Unafraid to lose audience sympathy for her character, she finds an innate sadness in Jasmine that makes us want to know what happens to her next. She also mines the sharp, class- based humor in Jasmine's struggles with one highlight a hilariously executed scene in a pizza restaurant where she explains to her confused nephews to "Tip big, boys".
The rest of the cast manage effective turns. Alec Baldwin plays Jasmine's swindler husband with almost effortless aplomb. Sally Hawkins brings a wonderful looseness to Ginger, Stella to Blanchett's Blanche, and finds a level of poignancy in her character's constant victimization at the hands of her sister as well as her brutish, blue-collar boyfriend Chili, played with comic fierceness by Bobby Cannavale in the Stanley Kowalski role. In a conveniently conceived role, Peter Sarsgaard gets uncharacteristically breezy as Dwight, a wealthy, erudite, and matrimonially available State Department diplomat who appears to be the answer to Jasmine's prayers, while Allen casts two unlikely comics in about-face roles – Andrew Dice Clay as Ginger's defeated ex-husband Augie and Louis C.K. as Al, an amorous suitor who brings Ginger a few moments of romantic salvation. Allen's European sojourn appears to have freed him up with the movement of characters in scenes and Javier Aguirresarobe's ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona") camera-work complies nicely. The San Francisco locations bring a nice geographic change to Allen's storytelling, and he only uses the Golden Gate Bridge in a long shot once from the Marin side. This is Allen's best work in quite a while, and Blanchett is the ideal muse for his tale.
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