Film Views: “In a World” and “Blue Jasmine”

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This weekend was a movie-fest for Julie and me. A couple of movies opened that I really wanted to see (and so did Julie), so off we went to our local cineplex that, because of the destruction of “The Dome,” now shows more non-blockbuster films.

In a World

“Written, directed and starring LAKE BELL…”  That’s what the movie poster promotes in this film. Now, if you don’t know who Lake Bell is, you might think, “Big effing deal.” But she’s a very solid comedic actress who, in this movie, plays a voiceover coach/actor who is trying to get out from the shadow of her successful father, who happens to be a legend in the voiceover industry.  The film title is taken from movie trailers that begin with Don LaFontaine’s deep, sonorous voice saying “…In a world.” and LaFontaine’s ghost lingers throughout the film.  Not literally, but his name is invoked often in the film and he’s in the title sequence, so you know the story will deal with some big egos in a very small niche of the film business.

Lake Bell plays Carol, who lives with her father.  She’s trying to scratch out a career while her father keeps her in a state of insecurity with his lack of encouragement and constant large talk of his talent.  Only when her father decides that his girlfriend (who is a year younger than Carol) will move in with him, does Carol get the heave-ho out the door.  She ends up living with her sister and her husband (Dani and Moe) while she takes pick-up voiceover gigs at a local production house run by Louis (Demetri Martin) — who has a crush on her.

The main conflict in the movie centers on new film that is going to resurrect the “In a world” language of the Don LaFontaine era.  The political jockeying for the voiceover gig starts a battle between Carol, her father, and another voiceover actor who all want to pick up the torch and be the new Don LaFontaine voice for the next generation of movie-watchers.  Will Carol beat the others to win the voiceover gig?  Will Carol eventually connect with Louis? Will Dani and Moe find the missing passion in their marriage? These conflicts are deftly managed through Bell’s well-developed script and her expert direction. Moreover,  the film does not short-change its audience with a unsatisfying conclusion.

While all the performances were very good, one in particular stood out for me. And that was the role of Moe, as played by Rob Corddry. Rob used to be a fixture on The Daily Show, has a wicked sense of humor, and could have easily been pigeon-holed into playing smart ass characters from here to the end of his career. However, the guy has honed his dramatic acting chops. His depiction of Moe could have been that of a husband in a passionless marriage who starts pursuing any woman who walks in the door, or devolves into a internet-trolling porn hound. But, that’s not what occurred. Instead, we see a devoted husband who loves his wife but knows that their relationship is straining under the weight of professional obligations and lack of mobility. Temptations present themselves to both characters, but it’s Moe who is the more devoted one, and, for me, it seemed novel to see a man depicted like that on-screen. There’s been a lot of talk about how women get stereotyped into roles in Hollywood, but sometimes men get treated similarly when stock supporting characters are created. For Bell Lake to recognize that from the outset and create both male and female characters who defy the stereotype shows she’s the whip-smart filmmaker who, if she gets more opportunities to do so, will hopefully create more quality films like In a World.

Blue Jasmine

Woody Allen and Lake Bell have something in common: both have visions that involve deep character studies of people in certain enclaves of society. Whereas Bell uses a niche of the film industry to stage her drama, Allen has chosen the border between vast wealth and working-class struggles in his latest film, Blue Jasmine.  Cate Blanchett will probably be nominated for an Oscar for her role as Jasmine/Jeanette — a woman who married a man who made millions in fishy real estate deals in New York, and then lost it all and had to move in with her working-class sister in San Francisco.  We meet Jasmine on a plane as she flies from New York to San Francisco blathering on and on to the person who is sitting next to her about her wealthy life in New York.  She keeps talking and talking about aspects of her life while the woman listens politely.  It’s only later as the woman leaves in a hurry at baggage claim, that we find out that Jasmine was talking to herself for most of the flight and the woman thought she was talking to her.  Yes folks, Jasmine is a kind of crazy.  Sure, she looks rich and talks the talk, but she’s suffered a breakdown and isn’t all there. Or, if she is there, she’s on the precipice of losing it.

Through a series of flashbacks to her former life as a New York matron, we see the series of events that led to her financial and emotional demise.  Jasmine was pampered by her husband (played by Alex Baldwin) in a manner that made it easy to ignore is dubious business dealings and his extra-marital affairs.  She was proverbially boxed in cotton from the outside world and only knew the superficial and materialistic world of wealth.  She didn’t want to what sort of dirty deeds contributed to her comfort, so she lived in a bubble of ignorant bliss.

And then it all came crashing down…

Jasmine moves in with her sister, Ginger (played by Sally Hawkins), in a San Francisco flat that’s supposed to be blue-collar.  And while Ginger is trying to help her sister through this trying time, it’s revealed that Jasmine and her husband were key players in a scheme that kept Ginger and her (then) husband struggling economically. In a way, Blue Jasmine is a study in how people react to economic disasters.  For Ginger, she’s moved past it and embraces her fate and just deals with it.  She raises her two boys with her ex-husband (played by Andrew Dice Clay), but is dating another man and plans to marry him. Jasmine thinks Ginger can do better and through the course of the movie, we see the two sisters trying to “move up” with men who have more prestige and stability. While Jasmine’s ability to attract a new mate who has money doesn’t end in her favor, Ginger learns that sometimes it’s best to stick with the one who is passionately devoted to you.

Woody Allen has a record of “serious” films that get shoehorned into his more comedic offerings. However, what Allen has done in Blue Jasmine is combine comedy and tragedy into one movie. He attempted to do that in Crimes and Misdemeanors, but he didn’t strike balance between the two poles. In that film, scenes seemed too wacky or too serious at times, but in Blue Jasmine it’s a better balance. That’s not to say that I was particularly enthralled with the film. Mostly I found it to be incredibly sad, and San Francisco sure looked ugly.  Sure, there were funny moments, but there was always an undercurrent of pathos in the story that kept me from fully enjoying the film. Without a doubt, Blue Jasmine is one of Allen’s best films in a long time, but perhaps it was the deep sadness that was embedded into the story that bummed me out too much to love it.

 

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