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Friday, 09 August 2013 07:29

‘Blue Jasmine’ brilliantly parallels headlines and Tennessee Williams

‘Blue Jasmine’ brilliantly parallels headlines and Tennessee Williams
Written by Martha K. Baker
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"There are only so many traumas you can withstand before they find you on the street talking to yourself." Truer words were never spoken, and spoken they are, along with thousands of other words by the woman known as Jasmine. She was born Jeannette, but she changed her name, so her name is a lie.

Her very life is a lie, and every word out of her carefully carmined lips is a lie. And she's not the only one who lies in "Blue Jasmine," the best movie Woody Allen has written and directed in a long, long time.

Jasmine is a woebegone wife, the left-behind trappings of a Bernie Madoff-fraud. Jasmine married a finance man named Hal. He is suave and and monied, and he's defrauded many people out of millions of dollars, leaving Jasmine with a trauma and Xanax. Jasmine has no boundaries, speaking to her nephews as if they were grown-ups; she has no idea how to live frugally, so she flies first-class, carrying her, albeit scuffed, Louis Vuitton luggage.

She is forced to live with her sister Ginger, that is, to go from winters in Manhattan and summers in St. Tropez to a down-trodden apartment in San Francisco. She and Ginger were both adopted, so they are not blood. They are nothing alike, but, suddenly, Jasmine needs Ginger and the tables are turned on which sister follows the other. For a while, Jasmine maintains her lead position as she influences her sister in her choice of men and lifestyle.

Jasmine's and Ginger's foresisters appear as Stella and Blanche in Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire." One of the great larks offered by Allen is to find the allusions to "Desire" in "Blue Jasmine." Those parallels are one of the many brilliant cuts Allen makes to this gem along with the rest of the writing and the direction, the back and forth in time to the recent past and space, from coast to coast, from Allen's beloved Manhattan to the foreign land that is Northern California.

The other brilliant moves come in the casting, starting with Cate Blanchette, who has been good, as in "Charlotte Gray," but never better than in "Blue Jasmine." By the end, she looks like Frances O'Connor in her bedraggled, strawberry-blonde desperation. Blanchette is wonderfully balanced by Sally Hawkins' Ginger; Hawkins was so fine in "Happy-Go-Lucky" and "Made in Dagenheim," but she is excellent under Allen's direction. Also worthy are Alec Baldwin as Hal, Andrew Dice Clay, Bobby Cannavale, and Louis C.K. as Ginger's new man.

"Blue Jasmine" ends on the blue notes of "Blue Moon." It is Woody Allen's triumph of pairing headlines with literature.  

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