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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Cate Blanchett in ‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’

A sea expedition to find a killer shark. A riff on Jacques Cousteau. Cate Blanchett enters the quirky and unique world of Wes Anderson. Murtada welcomes producer and filmmaker Erica Mann to discuss The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004).

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What is the film about?

From imdb: With a plan to exact revenge on a mythical shark that killed his partner, Oceanographer Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) rallies a crew that includes his estranged wife, a journalist, and a man who may or may not be his son.

What year did it come out?

2004. Post Lost in Translation (2003) for Murray. Same year as The Aviator for Cate.

Who does Cate play?

Jane Winslett-Richardson, a reporter from the Oceanographic Explorer, interviewing Zissou.

How is Cate introduced?

23 minutes in, appearing the mist before the Zissou guys and kinda taking their breath away. “Those are Vietcong man-of-wars.”

Box Office: Domestic = $24MM Int’l = $10.7MM.

Metacritic : 62. RT: 66.

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Topics discussed:

  • A riff on Jacque Cousteau?
  • Does Cate fit in Anderson’s world? His artificial deadpan style? 
  • Chemistry with  Owen Wilson. Cate in love stories… playing “the girl” never seems to fit her.  
  • As in every Anderson film, the frame is full of detail. Color, unique costumes, actors doing odd things and moving deliberately.
  • Costumes by Oscar winner Melana Cananero and the impeccable design of the boat.
  • Wes Anderson – yay or nay. Our history with him. Favorite films? What do we like about his films? This is his 4th film post Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums.
  • Does this film fail the bechdel test? Huston and Blanchett have one scene together where they talk about her pregnancy and Zissou “shooting blanks.”

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What seemed off:

 Too much quirkiness or what Stephanie Zacharek referred to as “waterlogged with whimsy.”

Film within context of Cate’s career:

Released the same year as The Aviator and perhaps that’s why it’s a forgotten blip in career.

What reviews said of film / Cate:

“Having established a rather hectic set of narrative premises Mr. Anderson proceeds to treat them casually, dropping in swatches of action and feeling when they suit his atmospheric purposes. He is less a storyteller than an observer and an arranger of odd human specimens. “The Life Aquatic” is best compared to a lavishly illustrated, haphazardly plotted picture book – albeit one with frequent profanity and an occasional glimpse of a woman’s breasts – the kind dreamy children don’t so much read start to finish as browse and linger over, finding fuel for their own reveries.” Dana Stevens, The NYTimes 

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The film is often quite funny, but there are no bits and no punch lines. Laughing at any point makes about equal sense. The low-key comic style lets the audience notice the absurdity, while allowing the actors to play the emotions straight. Thus Murray and Wilson are able to achieve a father-son poignancy in their interaction, even though most of their scenes are intentionally and faintly ridiculous. Murray’s scenes with Cate Blanchett work similarly. She plays a virtual parody of a crusading journalist, a five-months-pregnant magazine writer interviewing Steve for a “cover story,” a prospect that fills him with hope and paranoia. Their conversations satirize the tortured dance of celebrities and reporters. Yet “The Life Aquatic” also takes us into the pain of a working woman, on her own, pregnant by a married lover.- Mick LaSalle, SF Chronicle.

Cate Blanchett proves she can do anything, even things she should not do.- Roger Ebert.

Promotional appearances:

At the Berlin Film Festival. 

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