What a touching yet unsentimental film. Brie Larson (The United States of Tara) gives a terrific performance as Grace, a young woman who works in a short-term housing facility for children. She lives and works with her boyfriend, Mason (John Gallagher, Jr., (American Idiot, The Newsroom) who does wonders to make Mason sweet and a genuinely nice guy but not a pushover), who is patient beyond belief.
While there is plenty of darkness in the film, I think what I liked most is that it is essentially a hopeful story. Mostly a character study, we see Grace wrestle with long-suppressed feelings and memories, and try to figure out a way to get through life. One of the ways she does it is by helping others, and I’m keen on that message.
Tennessee Williams would be proud. Woody Allen’s latest, Blue Jasmine, was loosely inspired by Williams’s classic A Streetcar Named Desire (which was recently revived on Broadway), and some of the key plot points are still there: A woman on the verge (and used to a certain lifestyle) moves in with her less sophisticated sister, disparages her life choices and depends on the kindness of strangers (whom she despises, of course).
Allen sets the action in the present, with the fallen-from-grace sister, Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), spiraling after her financier husband (Alec Baldwin) is convicted of white collar crimes. Jasmine loses everything and goes from Park Avenue to a side-street in San Francisco, where her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins) lives.
Everything unravels in riveting fashion. Jasmine tries to cultivate an air of class and culture, and she loathes and puts down Ginger’s boyfriend, Chili (the always superb Bobby Cannavale). (Andrew Dice Clay appears as Ginger’s ex-husband, Augie, and is surprisingly touching in a pivotal scene late in the flick.)
In flashbacks, we see Jasmine in her heyday, spending lavishly and referring to time spent with her sister as a chore. We see wrinkles in her veneer, all of which are heightened when we get back to present day. The vodka-fueled, pill-popping Jasmine deems herself above her circumstances and goes to great lengths, including lying to a gentleman caller (to borrow from another Williams play), just to get back on her feet. (Said gentleman caller is played with a roguish charm by Peter Sarsgaard.)
Allen presents a beautifully crafted train wreck from which you simply cannot avert your eyes. Perhaps more accurately I should say that Allen sketched the outline. The fantastic Cate Blanchett colored in the picture.
And this was no paint-by-numbers job. Instead, Blanchett gave a tour de force performance, making unexpected choices and unearthing the complexity of this privileged, petulant yet captivating tornado of a woman.
His parents are divorced and he’s spending the summer with his mother, her boyfriend and the boyfriend’s daughter. He doesn’t want to be there. He doesn’t make friends easily. He’s shy and introverted, but really he’s just looking for a guide.
Duncan (a terrific Liam James) finds that guide in Owen (Sam Rockwell), a goofy slacker who runs the local water park. Rockwell is so deliciously good as this oddball who’s oddly lovable, despite his man-boy ways. His long-suffering girlfriend, Caitlin, is brought to life by the always-welcome Maya Rudolph.
Throughout the summer, Duncan learns about his mom, Pam (Toni Collette), her boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell), and himself. He finds his “people” and comes out of his shell—it’s really quite sweet and touching without venturing into treacle. And the incomparable Allison Janney appears as a boozy divorcee. You can’t lose.
(The title refers to the back of a station wagon, the seat that faces back out into traffic. Of course, that’s the literal meaning; figurative meanings abound.)