The reception to Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine confirms the critics’ love-affair with his later oeuvre. It has been described as a GFC movie, A Streetcar Named Desire homage, and a Cate Blanchett vehicle. It’s none of the above—although Blanchett is impressive, if mannered, as her characterless character. The fact that Allen has made 44 films in 47 years is undoubtedly an achievement. It’s just a shame that Blue Jasmine is so weak. And mean-spirited.
The story employs an obvious dichotomy. Jasmine (Blanchett) is the wife of a convicted fraudster (Alec Baldwin) who finds herself alone, drug addicted, and muttering to herself. She is forced to move from New York to her sister Ginger’s (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco. East versus West, upper class versus working class, money versus poverty are all so blatantly spelt out that it’s a surprise there’s a unifying characteristic in amongst the film: general contempt for all of the characters.
This contempt is so pronounced, and the schema so calculating, that the characters become nothing more than ciphers. Rich woman out of touch. Poor woman struggling. Slippery fraudster. Fat, bitter victim. The dialogue is hilariously bad; it’s almost as if Allen was writing from stereotypes that he invented rather than people who appear grounded in any sort of reality. The constant comparions to A Streetcar Named Desire are also baffling—there’s no ‘Stanley Kowalski’ to be found here, nor is there the resonant delusion of Tennessee Williams’s masterwork present. What we’re left with is simply a lazy portrayal of sisterhood.
Furthermore, it’s hard to know exactly what the tragedy of this film is. Allen is condescending in his depiction of Jasmine’s fall from grace—she’s made to ‘slum it’ with a working class person with man issues, while there’s an emphasis on her struggle with mental illness for comedic effect. Ginger, meanwhile, is treated with derision by Allen—her lifestyle choices are mocked and the men and children in her life are presented as dropkicks. The ending is therefore too easily ‘won’, and the ‘tragedy’ lacks any resonance.
On top of all this, the wholesale delusion that precipitated the Global Financial Crisis is simplistically drawn. Jasmine’s unconvincing phone call near the end of the film is meant to buy her some sympathy, but effaces the way Madoff and co. came a-cropper. There’s certainly an interesting story to be told from the perspective of someone who deluded him or herself in such a situation, benefiting from the spoils, but now forced to live with it all collapsing. And there is certainly an interesting story to be told about the effects of the GFC on ordinary folk. Unfortunately, Blue Jasmine fails thoroughly on both of those counts, and every other.