Buckeye: kyra and I wandered down to the Angelika on Monday to take in Woody Allen’s latest, Blue Jasmine. Comparisons to Tennessee Williams will abound, most notably because Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) is a tall, blond, formerly rich, delusional, drunk woman, but I’d say it’s definitely Woody’s riff on Tennessee Williams, because Blue Jasmine has the unmistakable Woody Allen touches: educated New Yorkers visiting lavish summer homes in the Hamptons, awkward come-ons by men fishing a little bit out of their league, and a disdain for the West Coast. All said, it’s an enjoyable film, told with a surprising amount of humor given the delicate subject material—that is, a woman suffering a complete mental breakdown. (You could draw comparisons to John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence, too.) And it’s a timely film. Alec Baldwin, who plays Jasmine’s husband Hal, is a Ponzi schemer whose house of cards and legal abstractions have been uncovered, landing him in jail and leaving Jasmine without claim to his assets. For this reason Jasmine travels to San Francisco to crash her sisters ample but modest pad near the bay, a gigantic step down for social climber Jasmine, accustomed to indulging in the high ceilings and artwork of the Park Avenue apartment she once shared. Any discussion of Blue Jasmine must start with the titular character, who has constructed her own house of cards (Jasmine’s not even her real name), and with Cate Blanchett. What’d you make of the leading performance, kyra?
kyra: ‘Do you hear that? It’s the song that played when I first met Hal. Blue Moon it’s called, but of course you know that.’ The title, of course, is a combination of the name Blanchett adopts and this song, which she hears throughout the movie and causes her to experience flashbacks from having told the story so many times before. These moments are played both comically (she hears the song while having lunch with her sister’s fat kids who gapingly stare at her) and sad (while adrift, lost in her own nostalgia), which is very much in Woody’s wheelhouse. Blanchett plays the leading role well. She plays the pompous trophy wife who left college after being swept off her feet by the debonair Hal, but at the same time, she is just sympathetic enough because we would all likely answer one question the same way: ‘put in her shoes, would you have done the same?’ I believe the answer is a confident yes. If you were showered with wealth would you think twice about asking if all this was being done legally?
Additionally, though she is fairly critical of her sister’s life, Jasmine would argue she only wants a better life for Ginger than what she has. As the movie progresses Jasmine grows increasingly frustrated with the complacency surrounding her in San Francisco. Her sister is content to bag groceries and marry Chili, a quick-tempered car mechanic. In one scene she blows up when Ginger comments that Jasmine got the good genes in the family. This is literally a dumb statement because they are both adopted, but Jasmine is much more annoyed by Ginger’s defeatist attitude. It’s as if she never tried to make a better life for herself, and that’s what upsets Jasmine the most.
However, this is a fairly hypocritical view, as we learn near the end of the story just how unreliable a narrator Jasmine is. Certain events indicate she must have known all along about Hal’s schemes, and for her to ignore all the obvious signs of infidelity is downright dense. Rather, Jasmine was blissfully complacent in her own way–willing to drown out her problems with Xanax, alcohol, and wealth until the burden became too much and she blew it all up.
While Blue Jasmine ostensibly tells the story of this woman’s descent into the looney bin, it really is about the flaws in all humans. What say you Buckeye?
Buckeye: Well, I’d say that it certainly wouldn’t be a Woody Allen movie without examining people who lie, cheat, see the worst in people, and get depressed. One of the reasons I love Woody so much is because, paradoxically, he has a pretty firm handle on human behavior. Okay, so I’ll confess to plenty of cynicism on my end, but sometimes you need a person with an unsentimental worldview to hold up a mirror. With Blue Jasmine, it seems Allen thinks that society has bisected into con men (or con women) and their marks. The fraudsters, it seems, tend to be the rich: Hal duped all of his investors (including squandering Ginger’s lottery winnings) and reaped the massive (if ultimately fake) gains; a dentist played by Michael Stuhlbarg seemingly runs an upstanding practice, but it turns out he’d rather try and bang his receptionist in the office after the last appointment; Louis CK’s apparently well-off stereo salesman named Al woos Ginger, but Al won’t be truthfully honest, either; and Jasmine, painfully preoccupied by her past as soon as she can afford to, and someone who would rather make false offers to her CLEARLY inferior sister and then-still-husband Augie of dinner at Le Cirque or Daniel (obviously Augie and Ginger would NOT be receiving the “napkin-covered bowl of rosemary- and lemon-scented water” for rinsing their fingers).
The marks, of course, are the less fortunate: Ginger, Augie, Chili, and everyone else with the shitty luck to fall under the spell of those with tons of cash. (Though we can make an exception for Peter Sarsgaard’s ambitious diplomat.) I agree with kyra that I probably wouldn’t be immune to the spell, that I’d probably look the other way and not ask questions. Allen has it in for the rich, they’re soulless. But he has it in for the not-rich, too, they’re gullible. My follow up question to you, kyra, would be whether you think Allen was too condescending to working class people or too sympathetic to rich people in spite of all of their depravity?
kyra: I think generally the rich were not captured as sympathetic at all. Everyone is a liar or an adulterer, and the people who you think are your friends are the ones sleeping around behind your back or withholding information from you.* In the end I didn’t feel much sympathy for Jasmine either, as I felt she had made her bed and now had to lie in it.
*Although I agree that Peter Sarsgaard for whatever reason bucks the trend, or perhaps, is the exception that proves the rule.
In contrast, I did find his depiction of the less-fortunate to be a bit condescending. Namely, while Jasmine’s commentary on the lives of Chili, Augie, and Ginger was blatantly mean albeit accurate to some extent, they seemed to accept the criticism. Ginger lived in a reasonably sized apartment for a single mother and did not seem to be wont for food or clothes or anything. However she seemed to take all the punishment doled out by Jasmine as if she lived in a dump. Chili and Augie too both seem to acknowledge that their jobs may not be very impressive nor are they necessarily ‘catches,’ which I find unrealistic. There can be a humble pride in living a simple life, and plenty of movies and television shows explore the lives of the non-wealthy with incredible depth. It just seemed to me they were a bit to acquiescent to the label of being boring and dull and poor.
Buckeye: I wholeheartedly agree with kyra on this score. With regards to condescending towards the working class, I said to myself that Ginger seemed to have enough space, but as kyra alluded to, I was surprised when she acknowledge to Jasmine that she lived “like this…”, as in, “I live in a dump.” Not the way I’d have described it. San Francisco seems to me like a high end city, one that’s definitely a center of culture and arts and business and whatever else you’d find in a big city—but you’d never know that from Blue Jasmine, which does little (uncommon for a Woody Allen picture) to show off San Francisco’s famous architecture or natural beauty. The scenes out west mostly linger in Ginger’s apartment, which though colorful, the characters (and seemingly Allen) condemn.
And to add, while it’s important to remember that Woody Allen is a comedian just as much as he’s a director, the sheer use of the name “Chili” veered a little too close to stereotype or caricature. I mean, Chili? As a muscular mechanic who’d be at home in Ed Hardy wear, but with a soft side? Bobby Cannavale made the most of every scene in which he featured, but I thought Woody really guido’d up his introduction, when that was unnecessary; he could’ve changed the character’s name and softened his more broadly Italian features.
kyra’s right though that the movie condescends downwards more than sympathizes with the rich (though Allen takes great care to show off some of the Hamptons sets). If nothing else Jasmine is a symbol of the self-destructive path on which a status-obsessed path could lead. Allen makes great use of flashback, deploying them at opportune times—Jasmine remembers a moment with Hal, or a word her sister utters triggers a past trauma that sends her into another fit of mumbling her version of her memoirs to herself. With the flashbacks, it’s as if Allen is arguing that being rich, or being this consumed with how others view you, is work. To become that consumed with something leads you to neglect everything else; once Jasmine loses her status, she’s effectively lost everything, and can only try to grasp onto all those she’s demeaned or wrong on the way down.
**FYI: I (as in Buckeye) mistakenly hit “Publish” instead of “Save Draft” when we were about halfway through with the review. If you’re reading after 11 PM on August 7, then you’re reading the whole goddamned varnished thing. Thanks, yo.