Blue Jasmine Movie Review 0 109

Blue Jasmine movie review

Few directors are as prolific as Woody Allen. He has basically made a film a year since the mid-’60s, admittedly not all of which have been great but it shows a commitment and passion for filmmaking that’s to be commended. His latest film, Blue Jasmine, is that every-so-often slice of brilliance from the man that sits alongside 2011’s Midnight In Paris as one of his best films in decades.

The story centres on the titular Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), a formerly wealthy New York socialite who is forced to live with her less well-off sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) after her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) is arrested because of some dubious business investments. Accustomed to being draped in fur coats and diamond necklaces, Jasmine’s fall from riches hits her hard as she becomes a slave to prescription pills and alcohol while trying to fit in with her sister’s more humble lifestyle.

At the centre of Blue Jasmine is a staggering performance from Blanchett that you can’t take your eyes off throughout, utterly convincing in the role of a woman deeply troubled and dependent on material possessions, substances and, yes, other people even as she struggles to connect with family she previously shrugged off in favour of living a lavish lifestyle with her husband. It’s a potentially caricaturish role and in the hands of a lesser actress the constant babbling about her once-great life might have become irritating but Blanchett carries it off with aplomb, judging the performance perfectly to make for a believable portrayal of a deeply complex and tragic woman. I’d be very surprised if she didn’t win the Best Actress Oscar when the time comes next year.

While it’s very much Blanchett’s show, there’s fantastic support from the likes of Sally Hawkins as her put upon sister who is trying her best to help but getting nowhere because of Jasmine’s passive aggressive behaviour, Bobby Cannavale as Ginger’s arrogant but loveable new boyfriend and Alec Baldwin as Jasmine’s lying husband, to name but a few. Each of the characters float around, in and out of Jasmine’s story with interesting and funny romantic subplots that never feel superfluous or distracting thanks to a perfect cast and Allen’s acerbic and truthful dialogue.

The film also works as a strange and subtle romantic (or sometimes anti-romantic) mystery as it flip-flops between present day San Francisco and past New York, slowly revealing bit by bit what happened to Jasmine, how exactly she ended up living with her sister and why she is the way she is. Having been away from his beloved New York City for most of the last few years making the likes of Midnight In Paris, To Rome With Love and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, it’s almost seems as if Allen is being called back to his home city and setting of his initial cinematic success, while narratively it gives the film a certain unpredictable and intriguing quality as blanks are filled in with each new flashback.

Blue Jasmine will be held as one of the high watermarks of Allen’s recent career and rightfully so. It’s an extremely well crafted and acted piece of cinema, one that can make you laugh as much as make your heart break. In keeping with most of the director’s work, the runtime and pace are breezily swift but Allen packs every minute of it with quirky character moments that linger long in the mind and astute observations that actually have something real to say about love, estranged familial relationships and finding happiness in life.

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Blue Jasmine is released in UK cinemas on September 27th.

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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 537

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 562

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10

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