Cate Blanchett in ‘Coffee and Cigarettes’

This week a double Cate Balnchett. In one of eleven vignettes included in Jim Jarmusch’s anthology film Coffee and Cigarettes (2003), Blanchett plays a version of herself as well as her ne’er do well “cousin,” Shelly. We discuss the film and performance and why it stands out in her filmography. For this conversation podcast host Murtada Elfadl welcomes writer and critic Ela Bittencourt of the film site Lyssaria.

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What is the film about?

From IMDB: A series of vignettes that all have coffee and cigarettes in common.

Who does Cate play? A version of herself as Movie Star Cate blanchett meeting her cousin Shelly (also Blanchett) for coffee at the lobby of a swanky hotel. 

 How is Cate introduced? Her vignette titled Cousins starts 42 mins in.

What year did it come out? 2003

Critical Response: Metacritic : 65 RT: 64%

Topics discussed:

  • What does Blanchett’s as a star actor gain from taking this smaller role besides collaborating with Jarmusch?
  • The trick and gimmick of playing against or with yourself makes Blanchett’s the standout vignette. There’s in the visual and sonic contrast between the two characters blond vs dark haired, business couture vs. casual punk, thick Australian accent vs a more continental one.
  • Interlocking themes include disinterest from one of the two parties, almost all the meetings start with eagerness then end in disappointment.
  • The different acting styles within the film; heightened (Blanchett), natural (Bill Murray), grounded and “real” (Alfred Molina).
  • This performance reminded me of her performances in Documentary Now; she’s playing an exaggerated version of someone famous but in this case herself. Also Manifesto where she plays up the costumes and makeup to create distinct characters.
  • What we enjoy about Jim Jarmusch mentioning some of his other films including Paterson and Only Lovers Left Alive.
  • We reminisce briefly about watching Blanchett on stage as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire.

What reviews said of film / Cate:

In the two strongest chapters — the one featuring Ms. Blanchett and another in which Steve Coogan and Alfred Molina play a deft game of celebrity one-upmanship — such vague discomforts blossom into one-act dramas of envy and suspicion.[It] has the serendipitous coherence of an old LP. Some of the tracks are stronger than others, but the magic lies in the echoes and unexpected harmonies between the selections. ” – Dana Stevens, NYTimes.

The scorecard at the end is unimpressive: six outright duds, three passable bits, and only two successes. The irony is that the best sketches also happen to be the most conventional. In “Cousins,” Cate Blanchett plays herself and her resentful cousin, Shelly, meeting for coffee in a posh hotel lobby. Blanchett’s Cate is regal, classy and generous—the way we imagine Blanchett herself to be. The punky Shelly, meanwhile, exudes passive-aggressive envy, her self-deprecation doubling as a sly prick on the self-conscious Cate’s conscience.” – Elbert Ventura, Reverse Shot.

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