I saw this movie on a cool, bright August Saturday in my neighborhood theater at the foot of Solano. Playing in both auditoriums, and filling them. As I looked around for a seat, I noticed what has become a common phenomenon: I couldn’t spot anyone under fifty in the crowd. We have aged with Woody, and the audience seems to have aged well.
Before the “approved for this film” previews, and the announcement by the officious (he played his part well) theater manager about putting away all instruments “that may beep or ring during the performance,” we were treated to a trailer by Tanqueray that was cool and exciting. It featured a bartender at a trendy NYC watering hole plying his trade. His enormous schnoz; lithe, athletic frame; and outstanding savoire faire–be it in mixing a drink, comforting a sad debutante, or ejecting an unruly customer–marked him as an outstanding model for creating a life built on skill and people smarts. Next time I have a gin martini (which is never), I will ask for Tanqueray.
Well, now that my review previews are over, let’s get to the meat of the matter. If I want to follow up on that metaphor, we do have a steak dinner here (a rare tenderloin, although to compare Cate Blanchett to a slab of meat is not the whole story for sure). The problem is the setting, the sides, and the service. Context, context.
The reviewers for The New York Times and The New Yorker were spot on when they praised Blanchett’s acting to the skies. Cate enabled Woody to blast past the neurotic tics displayed by himself, his stand-ins, and Diane Keaton in his past movies, as she masterfully portrays the realm of full-throated, disabling, get-away-from-that-lady psychosis.
Where I differ from those reviewers, who praised the film largely based on her magnificent performance, is that I experienced her realness as contrasting with the phoniness of so much else in the film. And that includes all the secondary characters (including Alec Baldwin) except perhaps her two nephews (especially the fat, obnoxious, curious one). Alec was phony partially because he played the part of a phony, but also because of the whole phony context.
The San Francisco-Bay Area depicted was obviously the product of Woody’s fantasy. A few shots of a gritty south Van Ness neighborhood, and then we are transported to various scenic places in Marin where people respond with “Marin” when they’re asked where they come from, as if it were a city for God’s sake, and Oakland is exemplified as a dark, cavernous store where second-hand musical instruments are sold and lives are squandered.
Woody tips his hand when he lets us (the hoi polloi) attend a dinner party of the fabulously wealthy glitterati; or wander through the rooms, patios, and terraces-with-a-view-to-die-for of the same. There he gets real, showing us his familiarity with, and love of, the places where the one per cent of the one percent live.
But when the worlds of the ordinary (as stereotypically depicted) and the privileged collide, we are left with the shards of a porcelain vase that could not hold the sprigs of Blue Jasmine. How could it? Ironically enough, the vase’s creator had mixed pure and impure clay in the mix, and the result is a vessel that cannot hold the Oscar-worthy work of Cate Blanchett.
Frank Rubenfeld is a 77 year-old Berkeley psychologist who co-founded Psychotherapists for Social Responsibility and authored The Peace Manual: A Guide To Personal-Political Integration. He currently teaches Gestalt at C.I.I.S., and is an active member of the Bay Area Gestalt Institute.