Woody Allen's latest film is a modern day twist on A Streetcar Named Desire, a story that follows one unstable, emotionally disturbed woman recovering from a nervous breakdown to her sister's house to find a new life, where she must come into contact with her sister's working class, brute-like boyfriend and less than favorable living circumstances.
Though the story is taken from Streetcar, Allen gives it a very timely focus by making the circumstances of Jasmine's (Cate Blanchett) plight directly related to the recent financial crises and scams perpetrated by the people on Wall Street. Jasmine was married to a man (Alec Baldwin), who was a flat out crook, making his living by ripping people off ala Bernie Madoff, while Jasmine reaps the benefits by looking the other way. Of course, Baldwin gets caught and their wealth disappears, which leads to Jasmine fleeing New York for San Francisco and her sister's (Sally Hawkins) supposedly low class apartment that she inhabits with her two kids. Cate Blanchett gives a fierce and dominating performance in the title role, which stands out especially in a Woody Allen film, where so many actors come and go in various roles without making much of an impression. But according to Blanchett she was essentially marooned by the director and given the room to completely create the character with nothing but her own impulses, and she kind of uses the opportunity to smash up the scenery around her at every turn. Given the fact that Jasmine is a spoiled, manipulative, selfish, self-centered woman who, on top of all that, is also suffering from a nervous breakdown and a drug addiction, that certainly gives Blanchett every excuse in the world to go nuts with the character- but for me there were still times where she stood out a little too much from the cast members surrounding her, none of whom are slouches themselves.
Sally Hawkins is great as her working class sister (despite a slightly shaky American accent), and Bobby Cannavale and Andrew Dice Clay of all people make appearances as her current boyfriend and ex-husband, respectively. Both guys shine in their roles, as this is the first time in a long while that Woody Allen has even attempted to step outside of his usual upper class, intellectual circle of elites that populate his every movie. What's nice is that he does so with the intention of sympathizing with the new characters and even vilifying the upper class in a lot of ways. That's new territory for the director and admirable for him to even try and go there, even if it does come with some occasionally awkward writing- for example, despite how good Cannavale and Clay are, I really don't know why working class San Francisco-ites sound like they're from the Jersey Shore...maybe the movie should have been set there instead? The obvious answer is that Allen wanted to film in San Francisco this time around, but come on Woody, west coasters of any class don't have that northeastern Guido-type attitude. There are some other details that are a bit out of touch, like Jasmine spending so much time taking classes in "computers" to learn how to take classes online. Huh? If she needs to learn how to take a class online, it sounds to me like all somebody has to show her is how to, you know, turn ON a computer and get on the internet. Then there's the issue of Hawkins' apartment, which I have a bad feeling is supposed to look tiny and cramped, when it actually comes across as near fancy, and then when we find out she's a grocery bagger? With two kids and an apartment like that? Yeah, that's not happening.
But overall, those are minor and actually kind of amusing bits in a very entertaining and witty movie that makes great use of every single cast member (Baldwin, Michael Stuhlbarg and Peter Sarsgaard all get meaty bit parts as well), and actually has something to say about the morality of so much of the 1% that tanked the economy in recent years. In other words, it's a lot more than just a showcase for Cate the Great, whose very big, very showy performance probably has the Oscar already engraved with her name. A worthy entry into the Allen canon, who just keeps cranking them out, even at 77 years old. But seriously, somebody has to show Woody how easy it is to get online.
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