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Blue Jasmine: Quirky Story of the Rise & Fall of a New York Socialite
Even at the ripe old age of seventy-seven, and with over forty movies to his name, writer, director and actor, Woody Allen, continues to impress with his latest exploit of a fallen New York socialite, in the quirky and the incredibly emotional, Blue Jasmine.
Loosely based on the Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, the story is cantered on Jeanette "Jasmine" Francis (Blanchett); a pompous Park Avenue princess who, thanks to her husband Hal's (Baldwin) dishonest business schemes, is left without a penny to her name or a home to live in.
With no one to turn to, Jasmine flies to San Francisco to move in with adoptive sister, Ginger (Hawkins), and her loud-mouthed fiancé, Chili (Cannavale). Relying heavily on copious amounts of vodka and a handful of anti-depressants, it's clear that Jasmine – often seen talking to herself – is on the verge of a nervous-breakdown.
Determined to make it through the rough patch, but still very much in denial, Jasmine acquires a menial job as a receptionist at a dentist's office; however, after an embarrassing run-in with her boss, Dr. Flicker (Stuhlbarg), Jasmine is forced to look elsewhere. Things soon take a turn for the better, when she comes across a charming and an incredibly wealthy diplomat, Dwight (Sarsgaard), who, in her spoiled opinion, might just be the answer to all her problems.
Woody Allen has never had any qualms in writing and casting strong leading ladies and his obsession with the human psyche, intermingled with his own personal assortment of phobias and neurosis , continues to be the beating heart of his forever intriguing imagination. Shot mainly on the streets of San Francisco, with a few brief flashbacks spent on the New York's Upper East Side, it's nice to see a Woody work outside of Europe and the Big Apple.
Stepping behind the wheel in her very-first Woody Allen adventure, Blanchett is magnificent and ends up delivering a powerhouse performance in her portrayal of a woman whose complexities are both testing and somehow endearing. Undoubtedly, Blanchett is the movie's shining beacon, however, she does receive great support from the rest of the cast; Baldwin is an ideal fit for the arrogant and devious Wall Street businessman, whilst bubbly-adoptive sister, Hawkins, is positively infectious.
Blue Jasmine is an honest, self-assured, funny and yet incredibly profound, character-driven drama that proves that Woody Allen's very specific type of comedy really is timeless.
He promptly charms the somewhat cynical principal Ms. Vaillancourt (Proulx), who at first is a little hesitant to his slightly mystical presence, and soon takes over the 'broken' classroom. The film’s heart also lies with the two students who were unfortunate enough to discover the body. Alice (Nélisse) is a bright-eyed, straight A student, who deals with her own troubles of an absent parent on daily basis. The tender-looking Simon (Néron) suffers a level of guilt for his teacher's demise and is a problematic student as a result.
The task at hand is one of many challenges for M. Lazhar. Nevertheless, with his own personal suffering set aside, its details slowly unravel throughout the film; he takes the kids under his caring wing and slowly starts guiding them to the truth.
Fellag's interpretation of M. Lazhar is a delightful surprise. Though slightly old-fashioned in his teaching methods, trying to get to grips on a modernised education system, Lazhar is portrayed as loyal and caring. From beginning to end, we are embraced with his warmth and affection. The same can be said for the outstanding performances by both child actors, Alice and Simon. The level of maturity and the profound strength they bring to their roles is nothing short of mesmerising.
Based on writer Alan Bennett’s 1989 memoir, the ‘mostly true’ story of one Margaret Shepherd - an eccentric homeless woman who back in the mid-70’s decided to set up camp in Bennett’s North London driveway and stay there for fifteen years - is beautifully told in Nicholas Hytner’s The Lady in the Van; a humorous and touching tale of an unusual friendship brought to life by an engaging script and one deliciously weird and quirky performance by the forever-great Dame Maggie Smith.
Adapted to the screen by Bennett himself – his story was initially turned into a book back in 1989 before taking up stage in London’s West End in 1999 - The Lady in the Van begins by introducing Alan Bennett (Jennings); a witty, dry and a seemingly withdrawn playwright who has just moved in to his new home in Camden, London. Thanks to camera trickery, there are two versions of the writer to be witnessed here; one is Bennett the man – a shy and a reserved fellow who deals with the outside world – and Bennett the writer; someone who sits, writes and complains about the lack of intrigue and excitement in their somewhat boring and complicated co-existence.
Things take an interesting turn with the appearance of Miss. Shepherd (Smith); a strange, smelly and a particularly single-minded drifter who lives out of the back of a van. After not being able to park her van out on the street anymore, Miss. Shepherd – whose unconventional characteristics have already ignited an interest in the writer – turns to Bennett for help. Taking pity on the poor old lady, he soon agrees for her to temporarily use his driveway which, as it turns out, she stayed on for fifteen years.
It’s easy to recognise The Lady in the Van’s theatrical roots with the movie bearing a somewhat of an artificial and at times, a distractingly stagey feel. However, that should not pose as a problem with the magnificent Maggie Smith at play, whose performance is so engaging that it’s easy to forgive the film’s tiny drawbacks. Reprising her acclaimed stage performance, Smith is absolutely superb as the wandering oldster whose mysterious past involving a hit-and-run – something that serves as the major subplot in the story – has led her to where she is today. Her interaction with Bennett – a pleasantly reliable Jennings - is where the story’s heart lies and it’s his never-ending curiosity about his particularly strange squatter that ends up slowly unravelling the mystery behind her suffering existence.
Staying clear of unnecessary melodrama and over-sentimentalising its subject, The Lady in the Van is all about Smith’s turn and, while its peculiar set up may not appeal to everyone’s taste, it’s hard to imagine anyone not being taken in by this 80 year old actress’ immense talent and her incredible ability of commanding the screen.