Reviews

Woody Allen's 'Blue Jasmine' Is a Portrait of a Lost Lady

Blue Jasmine is a portrait of a woman unsympathetic in so many ways, but nonetheless touching in her utter loss.


Blue Jasmine


Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Bobby Canavale, Peter Sarsgaard, Louis CK, Andrew Dice Clay, Michael Stuhlbarg
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Year: 2013
US date: 2013-07-26 (Limited release)
UK date: 2013-09-27 (General release)
Website
Trailer

Though late-period Woody Allen has received a lot of attention for a grim drama (Match Point) and a sparkling comedy (Midnight in Paris), he seems equally interested in movies that blur the line between comedy and tragedy. He explicitly toyed with that duality in Melinda and Melinda, in which the story alternated between the light-comedy and dark-drama version of itself and since then, movies like Vicky Cristina Barcelona, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, and now, Blue Jasmine have all let their laughs rub uncomfortably against more serious or more pensive material.

This approach sometimes leaves Allen's films feeling listlessly fatalistic: some funny stuff will happen, then some sad stuff will happen, and then we die. While we wait for that end, we do "whatever works," as Larry David says in Allen's movie of the same name. But in Blue Jasmine, the balancing act works, thanks in large part to Cate Blanchett. She has a showcase part as Jasmine, the trophy wife of slick Manhattan businessman Hal (Alec Baldwin), who turns out to be a Bernie Madoff-type scammer. Hal and Jasmine lose everything, and Jasmine heads to San Francisco to stay with her semi-estranged sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), who has not been so financially blessed.

Allen begins this story with Jasmine on the plane to California, talking (and then, we realize, rambling) about her situation to her seatmate. The movie then cleverly flips back and forth in time, so we see Jasmine's posh lifestyle alternating with her unraveling in San Francisco. Wholly unequipped to live an everyday, non-rich life, Jasmine approaches her new existence with a mix of bewilderment and disdain: she wants to take an online course in design, but she's a wreck with computers (an incompetence that might reflect her sheltered wealth, but also -- like her occasional stammering -- seems the sort of anachronism that characterizes many of Allen's movie stand-ins). And then when she essays a relatively analog position as a dentist's receptionist, even that overwhelms her.

Some of her rude awakenings are quite funny. Jasmine's peerless intolerance of noisy children makes for some choice moments, as do her awkward encounters with Ginger's roughhewn boyfriend Chili (Bobby Canavale). The clashes with Chili also have a touch of Tennessee Williams, especially as it becomes clear that Jasmine isn't just comically underprepared for the real world, but also teetering on the brink of mental collapse. Blanchett affects a haughty, somewhat theatrical American accent with a hint of well-bred lockjaw, important because Jasmine talks to herself. Or, more precisely, she talks to someone else and then drifts off into soliloquies, trying to sort out her life.

Jasmine's compulsive talking is of a piece with Allen's usual tell-not-show storytelling: at one point she mentions that there's "only so many traumas a person can stand before you take to the streets screaming," a conclusion that seems obvious by then. The script seems equally inspired by the recession and Allen's own fear, so perfectly expressed in Annie Hall, of becoming someone who "wanders into a cafeteria with a shopping bag screaming about socialism."

That blending of outside observations and his own obsessions provides an interesting, nervy reimagining of Allen's tropes (New York affluence, class contrasts, infidelities), even when the screenplay succumbs to some of his writerly pitfalls, like the aforementioned monologuing to explain backstory and feelings, or quirkier foibles like positioning San Francisco as a city altogether earthier and more working-class than New York (rather than, say, a city that is, like New York, one of the most expensive in the US). That said, he doesn't lapse into scoring easy points by bashing California).

Allen's strengths and weaknesses as a writer are so well known by now that it's become easy to overlook his dexterity as a director. Here his camera snakes around the tight confines of Ginger's apartment, staying on Blanchett's face, driving home her discomfort. The crosscutting between past and present creates its own tensions, as when Jasmine's new suitor Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) asks, regarding Hal's line of work, "What did he do?" The question feels edgy and loaded even when his intention is innocent, because Hal's scenes linger when intercut with Jasmine's attempts to start over.

In the end, Blue Jasmine focuses so intently on Blanchett that it feels both startlingly intimate and a little repetitive. A few other characters show up, including those played by Louis CK (whose delivery finds natural laughs without any real jokes) and a surprisingly affecting Andrew Dice Clay, almost like a Woody Allen ensemble film is happening in the background of this character study. But as a character study, it's half funny and half devastating, a portrait of a woman so unsympathetic in so many ways, but nonetheless touching in her utter loss. "Whatever works" for Jasmine is money and status, and it's not working for her anymore.

6

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web
Film

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Noel Fielding (Daniel) and Mercedes Grower (Layla) (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back in time to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

People aren't cheering Supergirl on here. They're not thanking her for her heroism, or even stopping to take a selfie.

It's rare for any hero who isn't Superman to gain the kind of credibility that grants them the implicitly, unflinching trust of the public. In fact, even Superman struggles to maintain that credibility and he's Superman. If the ultimate paragon of heroes struggles with maintaining the trust of the public, then what hope does any hero have?

Keep reading... Show less

The Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop artist MAJO wraps brand new holiday music for us to enjoy in a bow.

It's that time of year yet again, and with Christmastime comes Christmas tunes. Amongst the countless new covers of holiday classics that will be flooding streaming apps throughout the season from some of our favorite artists, it's always especially heartening to see some original writing flowing in. Such is the gift that Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop songwriter MAJO is bringing us this year.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image