It’s not a secret, but I’ll say it again anyway – I don’t much care for Woody Allen. Oh sure, he’s a fine writer and director, but aside from a few gems and other just-ok films, I haven’t seen the real draw to him. The man makes a film a year, after all. What we mistake for talent could, in truth, just be the outcome of throwing enough stuff at the wall. What sticks gets talked up forever, what doesn’t are drowned beneath a tide of the ok-to-great.
I begin this letter in this way to give a little bit more weight to what I have to say with regard to you, Blue Jasmine. After all, someone who can talk up Manhattan and To Rome with Love with equal vigor would deaden any other ears to their extoling of yet another Woody Allen film. But in my eyes Woody Allen as an artist neither adds nor subtracts from my initial impression of a film, so I can say the following from a place of almost perfect, tabula rasa neutrality:
I rather enjoyed our time together.
One would think that I would shrink from yet another neurotic Allen stand-in; another tale of the wealthy laid low and forced to find their place among the rabble. Yet something in your tale and execution stuck with me. The humor that was wrought from your situations of fish-out-of-water disparity was farcical rather than cruel, heightened to the point of absurdity. The rich aren’t painted as being the intellectual or moral betters of the lower class, nor are the lower class granted folksy wisdom or doltish inanity. Everyone is equally as messed up as everyone else, save for a few well-meaning souls caught in the middle of everything.
Cate Blanchett plays Jasmine (born Jeanette), the wife of a financial cheat who rained cash and jewels and luxury down upon her before being exposed as a fraud. Divested of her title and her wealth, Jasmine moves in with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), who was adopted along with Jasmine, making them sisters in the eyes of the law alone, as they have never really been close.
Jasmine is by this point a pill-popping, vodka-swilling mess, a ball of nerves frayed to the point of utmost frangibility. She has taken to talking to herself, responding to the flashbacks of her previous life which have begun to pepper her days with a readiness and frequency that suggest PTSD. As played by Blanchett, however, these tics and eruptions become more than simply weird jaunts, they become obstacles and hurdles to overcome. Jasmine isn’t viewed as quirky or neurotic, but genuinely damaged. Yet she is her own biggest roadblock to happiness, and she cannot stop both poisoning Ginger against the men in her life and insisting upon her own heroic narrative. Her narcissism and hubris are such that they flow onto her sister, enveloping her in Jasmine’s madness.
This all manifests itself in moments which are tragic and hilarious, but they also create one of the nagging problems I have had with you since we parted ways. You see, the two men who Ginger is seen to be involved with (Andrew Dice Clay as her ex-husband Augie and Bobby Cannavale as her new boyfriend Chili) seem on the surface to be nice guys. Sure they are a bit crass and low class, but Ginger loves them. It is only by coming into contact with Jasmine that these men dissolve and become unlovable, and once Jasmine is removed they suddenly become appealing again. I can’t decide if this is a statement on Jasmine’s corrosive influence, Ginger’s lack of agency, or some other thing which I have yet to strike upon. But it does feel a little weird that these men, who seem wholly likable and put together at first, only fall apart under a woman’s influence. It’s troubling, but in the end the possibly misogyny of the screenplay is so dwarfed by the critical eye placed on Jasmine, that I can’t help but feel that it is just an unintended consequence of having an unlikeable female protagonist.
And she is unlikeable, as a person, but still relatable and loveable as a character. We see the flaws in Jasmine, and the way a good person has been warped and destroyed by her own malaise and complacency, and we feel for her. The fun of your story is the way in which you juggle our sympathies with our ability to laugh at her many mistakes or missteps.
In the end, Blue Jasmine, you’re a simple tale of a broken psyche clinging to some renewed form of stability, cloaked in loving cliché and expert performance. Blanchett gives Jasmine more depth than one would expect, and through her will alone elevates you from merely passingly amusing to truly entertaining.
We’ll do it again sometime,
Brian J. Roan