Tag Archives: New York

Blue Jasmine (2013)

Blue Jasmine (2013)

Now into six decades of making films, Woody Allen is showing no signs of slowing down. Some recent films have name checked and featured European cities — Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), Midnight In Paris (2011), and To Rome With Love (2012) — but Blue Jasmine (2013, mins) sees Allen return Stateside and delivering a story spanning both coasts.

Cate Blanchett plays the eponymous Jasmine (real name Jeanette Francis), a New York socialite who has never had to want for anything in life thanks to Hal (Alec Baldwin), her high-flying husband, more in the Bernie Madoff mould than genuine businessman. However, as the film opens we see her land in San Francisco, moving in with her sister (they were both adopted, although from different biological parents) in order to get her life in order. What has happened between this extravagant lifestyle, funded by the dreams of others, and an almost desperate need to start over is what gradually unravels throughout Blue Jasmine.

Jumping between two timelines (the New York backstory and the west coast present) Allen aligns them not just with Jasmine as uniting thread but through looking at the women’s relationships. While Jasmine had Hal, her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), has Chili (Bobby Cannavale), a loose-tempered mechanic who, were it not for Jasmine’s visit, would be moving in. As if this doesn’t cause tension enough, Jasmine’s class snobbiness comes to the fore, berating her sister for her choice in men, somewhat rich coming from a woman who’s own husband was a crook.

If money corrupted Hal, it has also corrupted Jasmine, albeit in a different way. As someone living a life of parties, designer brands, and never having to worry about anything the descent to Ginger’s level — of poor neighbourhood, hyperactive kids, and actually having a job — is difficult to comprehend and adjust to. Deep in debt, thanks to Hal’s fake companies in her name, she still flies first class without quite knowing how.

Regardless of adaptability to her new situation, she does try — a job as a dentist’s receptionist, with the dentist heavy handed in his amorous after-hours approach; a computer class at college to learn how to study interior design from home (rather than just study interior design at college). Life, when you have concerns, is difficult and, rather than be strong she opts instead to jump on the first chance she gets back into her old life when she meets diplomat Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) at a party who thinks her the ideal trophy wife for his senatorial aspirations.

Almost every scene in Blue Jasmine sees Blanchett’s anti-heroine play some part, and the superlative performance dominates the movie. She flits easily between her superficially smiling socialite, her claws-out disdain of the lower classes, and the broken, fragile woman whose world has spun out of control. Whether it has spun out of her control is one of the many ambiguities Allen provides throughout the movie as much is made of Jasmine’s ability to see only what she wants. Was she, therefore, complicit in Hal’s Ponzi schemes or, like so many others, an innocent victim?

What one can read, if anything, into the eastern-flavoured names of our San Francisco trio — Jasmine, Ginger, Chili — is perhaps open to debate, but what’s certain is that the result is a fragrant broth of light-hearted comedy with darker moments. Interestingly, the comedy comes not from the two stand-ups Louis C.K. and Andrew Dice Clay that take supporting roles, but from its mocking of the superficial elite thrust into the real world and its alien nature. What this new world holds for Jasmine is uncertain, but it’s that way for us all.

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Goodbye, Columbus (1969)

Goodbye, Columbus (1969)

The summer of love — and free love at that — was two years gone but its echoes were still reverberating around the world. It was 1969. The year of Woodstock. The year of Easy Rider. Students protested with sit-ins; musicians with bed-ins. Goodbye, Columbus (1969, 101 mins) may as well have been walking on the moon with its wholesome students and concerns about premarital sex.

Adapted from Philip Roth‘s 1959 debut of the same name, it follows the summer relationship between Neil Klugman (Richard Benjamin) and Brenda Patimkin (Ali MacGraw), two Jewish teenagers in New York. When they first meet it is at a country club; Brenda asks Neil to hold her glasses while she swims he wastes little time in asking her out. The relationship that follows is quick to blossom, although issues of class rear their ugly head with her parents’ probing questions as to what he does for a living.

Neil’s working in a public library is a far cry from the other man in Brenda’s life — her father (Jack Klugman). He was once like Neil but through determination and hard work has pulled himself up into the nouveau riche via his own business. And in moving on up the money ladder (affluent suburb, big house, maids) he finds himself able to look down on others. The ultimate paradox of his family is their attempts to assimilate into wider society. They cling onto their heritage — evident at the wedding of Brenda’s brother Ron (Michael Meyers) — while simultaneously trying to hide it with nose jobs.

Neil, with his background, likewise can’t assimilate into the Patimkin family, partly due to their resistance to him. The mother (Nan Martin) is particularly hostile, questioning him about everything; while the father prefers a more pragmatic approach, recognising the relationship as merely a summer liaison that will end when Brenda returns to school. There’s sex aplenty (don’t let the parents know!) but, as in any coming of age story, some point has to be reached where a lesson is learned. In the case of Goodbye, Columbus it’s the thin line between love and lust.

While the film works well as story of two lovers who come to realise their relationship for what it is, it isn’t without some minor problems. At one point Neil goes to stay at the Patimkin’s for a fortnight. While it’s discussed, it’s never explained why he needs to and therefore disorients the story. Also, infidelity to Roth’s source creates a pretentious cartoon of Ron, the character who in repeatedly playing a recording of his school’s valedictory speech gives the film its title. Although it’s sprinkled with Roth’s original dialogue, it does occasionally take leave from the story, but presumably that’s the challenge of bringing a first person narrative to a third person delivery.

When Neil is at work a young black boy regularly visits the library to stare at Gauguin’s Tahitian paintings. “That ain’t no place you could go, is it?” he asks of the Pacific paradise. Swap Tahiti for the Patimkin family and there’s Neil’s issue foreshadowed. It’s refreshing to see a guy get the girl and lose her, not through any fault of his own, but because he never really had her. There may have been a summer of (free) love, but it comes at a cost.

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