Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Blue Jasmine

By James Colt Harrison

Bring out a silver platter of Oscars® and line them up in front of Cate Blanchett for her part of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown and mental collapse in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. If more than one Oscar® could be given for the same part, then Blanchett’s tour de force would win hand’s down. She is positively stunning in a role of a lifetime. We usually don’t go out on a limb this early in the movie year, but we are willing to bet Blanchett will be on the Best Actress Academy Award’s® list this season.

Writer/Director Woody Allen has directed a powerful story about a pampered woman in the Hamptons who has everything. Her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) is a billionaire real estate developer who is not what people think. He is caught in a fraudulent scheme that ruins him and makes Jasmine penniless after her privileged life among the beautiful people of New York. All of her luxurious ways of living---the posh dinner parties, the Gucci handbags, weekends at the beach, and a deference paid by friends because of Hal’s position at the top of the money heap---have been swept away. It’s too much for Jasmine to handle.

Blanchett captures Jasmine’s shakey mental state in subtle ways and is not a raving maniac. She talks to herself on the street, puzzling passersby, and continues to live in a fantasy world in which circumstances are the same as before. Obviously they are not, and Jasmine finds herself flying off in First Class to her poor sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco. Jasmine has no money and no job skills other than making water cress sandwiches for the gold-plated crowd. She doesn’t know what to do or where to turn.

Allen has skillfully guided Blanchett and keeps her on the screen in almost every scene. Jasmine slowly begins crumbling and Blanchett actually shows her nerves being frayed by displaying a slight shivering across her entire body. It’s not something ever seen previously, and you must look closely to see this genius  interpretation of a flawed character. Jasmines drinks to excess, swigging vodkas as though it were Diet Coke. Putting her on edge constantly, her drinking fuels confrontations with Ginger’s mechanic and low-class boyfriend Chili, a marvelous Bobby Canavale. Jasmine doesn’t want to touch any part of reality. She’s like a bird in a gilded cage who never wants to leave.

Las Vegas comic Andrew Dice Clay comes in for a nice turn as Ginger’s former husband. Clay is surprisingly effective as another guy with no money or class, but he makes an impression in one of his few serious roles. Naturally, Jasmine can’t stand him because he has a better definition of what a good life is than has she.

Blanchett is unstable, eccentric, maddening, pathetic, and annoying playing this wonderfully bizarre character. Yet she makes you have sympathy for her even though she has no redeeming qualities. It’s the mark of a great actress who can make a despicable character likeable or sympathetic. Don’t miss her performance.

Blanchett was born May 14, 1969 in Melbourne, Australia to an Australian mother and a Texan father. She explored her interest in acting at Methodist Ladies’ College and then went onto Fine Arts at the University of Melbourne.

Ms. Blanchett entered the theatrical community and her first major stage role co-starring with Oscar® winner Geoffrey Rush in playwright David Mamet’s play Oleanna. She won the Sydney Theatre Critic’s Best Newcomer Award in 1992.

After appearing in many plays, television shows, and small films in Australlia, she got her first leading role in 1997’s Oscar and Lucinda opposite Ralph Fiennes. In 1998, she received her first Academy Award® nomination for playing Queen Elizabeth I in Elizabeth.  Finally, in 2005, Blanchett won an Oscar® for Best Supporting Actress for portraying Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator.

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