NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

January 16, 2014

Red, White and Blue Jasmine

As I See It
Jack Garvey

---- — Unless the San Andreas Fault sank California last night and gave Nevada the coast, Cate Blanchett now has a Best Actress nomination for her performance in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.”

If the Academy heeds Screening Room patrons, breathless in reactions to her riches-to-rags role as they left the theater, she will receive the Oscar on March 2.

Reactions to the film as a whole are mixed, as you’d expect for a comedy so grim that few in the audience laugh when Jasmine, asked where she is from, answers, “Park Avenue.”

It’s a tribute to Allen — which the reviewers will never give — that the supporting cast matches Blanchett’s performance. Most moving is Andrew Dice Clay, whose few brief scenes may land him a nod for supporting actor.

Don’t laugh: Marlon Brando was once nominated for that award for a blink-of-an-eye turn in “A Dry White Season” (1989), a comparison worth making considering that Clay’s final scene echoes “I coulda’ been a contender” in more ways than one.

That, of course, was “On the Waterfront” (1954), recognized as a metaphor for post-war America with a strong plot offering the ways and means of organized crime in the mid-20th century.

Which brings us to what the reviewers miss in “Blue Jasmine,” especially in the character of Jasmine French, despite all the praise they heap on Blanchett’s rendition of it.

She was married to a Wall Street high-roller played by Alec Baldwin — who makes you believe how easy it was for so many to believe the likes of Bernie Madoff — and so she was surrounded by the ways and means of 21st-century organized crime.

As she says — often enough so that we hear her ditzy sister (played by Sally Hawkins, yet another gem) say it for her — she was able to live with the illusion and deny the fraud by “looking the other way.”

That’s a phrase we hear several times in the film, sometimes as laugh-out-loud funny as when the dentist hits on her by asking, “Have you ever tried nitrous oxide?” But more often as an expression of despair, not just hers but that of the victims of what she looked away from.

Augie, played by Clay, is foremost among them, representing countless victims of Wall Street since the 2007-08 meltdown, a character who shows — more pointedly than either Michael Moore or Elizabeth Warren can ever hope — the consequences of looking the other way when gambling passes as “trading.”

If we had to pick a line or phrase to describe the reason for America’s current economic condition, I doubt we could do better than “looking the other way.”

Call it a rejection of the all-too-participatory ’60s, looking the other way became a way of life in the you-can-have-it-all, morning-in-America ’80s and has been well documented in cinema, starting with the young Catholic priest in “True Confessions” (1981) played by Robert De Niro, who complains to the archbishop:

“Looking the other way is getting to be a full-time job.”

And now a lead role in which Cate Blanchett is “riveting,” “exhilarating” and “spot-on perfect,” just as the reviewers say. But it was far more than that.

Critics miss the point because they long ago consigned Allen to a cubbyhole of comedy that has no room for serious intent. That’s why they fault him for his frequent allusions to art and literature, especially when he indulges them, as in “Midnight in Paris” (2012).

That’s why they miss the lineage of Jasmine French to Henry James’ landmark character, Isabel Archer. In the late 19th century, she was an innocent abroad, the novel a portrait of a still-young nation as much as what James called it, “The Portrait of a Lady.”

Missing that, they can’t help but miss Allen’s update:

While Blanchett played Jasmine French, she displayed an entire nation — an America no longer innocent, but now steeped in the habit of looking the other way.

So convincing and unforgettable that it will be impossible for the Academy to snub her.

Too bad that an earthquake this week is more likely than the other nominations “Blue Jasmine” should gain: Best Director, Best Screenplay, and, yes, Best Film.

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Jack Garvey of Plum Island can be reached at hammlynn@yahoo.com.