Blue Jasmine

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I feel like I say this a lot, but I just want to make it known that a day will come when I won’t have to anymore because I will have seen every film ever made (or at least closer to that than I am now), but I’m no Woody Allen expert. I’ve seen Midnight in Paris and half of Annie Hall, but regardless of my ignorance I liked this film. The acting was great, there were a lot of amusing lines, the characters were well developed, I particularly liked the use of flashbacks, but there is one fairly large problem here. I originally didn’t see it because from the trailer it looks like it takes a lot from A Streetcar Named Desire, and I was absolutely right. While I still like the film, it gives me a pang of conscience to do so because it is so derivative.

Jasmine French (Cate Blanchett) is a newly divorced ex-socialite coming to live with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco. The film opens with her making the flight out, and completely annoying the woman sitting next to her as she talks at her about her life rather than with her. This is a habit with Jasmine that doesn’t go away. She tells anybody and everybody about herself, how messed up her life is now, and how great it used to be. But all of that is gone, it turns out her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) made all of his money on fraud and is now in jail. However, before all of that Jasmine’s life was pretty great and she never lets anybody forget it, still acting like the socialite she used to be.

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There are two main aspects to her character, as I saw it. On one hand, she is a completely delusional snob that bestows a warped sense of worth on everything and everyone. She doesn’t appreciate her sister, insults her sister’s boyfriend in the present and her husband in the flashbacks, and pretends things are different than they are just so she can have what she wants. There’s another side though, that even though she goes about it in a strange way and doesn’t really succeed at all, she does try to improve herself and it’s sort of commendable if you see it through her eyes. The problem is that even though she is trying to advance herself, her standards of being successful are more like superficial society standards rather than anything as “substantial” as she believes.

So she enrolls in a computer course, pays for it by becoming a receptionist at a dentist’s, and attempts to become an interior designer. None of this really pans out though, and she ends up trying to marry the rich guy instead of striking out on her own, which is partially what got her into trouble in the first place. In the flashbacks, we see how she ignores problems and looks the other way, pretending everything is fine, as long as her husband provides for her. Despite vague impressions of wrongdoing on his part, both personally and professionally, she doesn’t look into them and plays the victim when things actually go wrong. I won’t give away what actually happened, but it’s pretty shocking.

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The flashbacks are constructed in a really interesting way, mostly because Jasmine’s getting pretty unstable. You think Allen’s just cutting back to stuff that happened previously so that we’ll know what’s going on, because at first they seem pretty abrupt. Once you get into the scenes that take place in the past however, you can tell what prompted him to flashback to them at that specific time. Then you realize that Jasmine might think she’s actually living that moment. You get back to present day and she’s usually talking to herself like she’s in the past. It’s pretty striking to realize this (it took me a while into the movie, maybe it’s actually obvious and not as clever as I think it is, but whatever).

The actresses are what is really getting the attention in this movie, award wise, so let’s talk about the actresses. Cate Blanchett is always great, and here is no exception. She handles both the emotional and the character elements really well, and how she goes from perfectly made up and contented to looking like hell and then back again is really impressive. She also handles the comedy very well; I laughed not a few times during this movie. Hawkins’ role is not as flashy, but it’s great to see her character go through the various stages of self-worth. Jasmine exercises a lot of influence on Ginger and it’s great to see her fall victim to it, then realize Jasmine doesn’t know what she’s talking about and move on, and Hawkins’ does a great job.

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My one big problem still stands though: this really does take a lot from A Streetcar Named Desire. Now, that’s one of the greatest stories ever in my opinion, so the film still works. It so obviously works off of it that it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth just the same. Basically what Allen’s done, for those familiar with the story, is trade Blanche’s feigned sexual innocence for Jasmine’s feigned ignorance about Hal’s shady business dealings. Also the conflict with the sister resolves itself less ambiguously, but it starts out very similar as Jasmine keeps pressuring Ginger to date better people. There are differences, assuredly, but so much of it is similar that it can’t really be ignored. Some of you may be yelling hypocrite right now, as there was a film earlier this year that I liked a lot, Stoker, that ripped off a lot of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. Don’t ask me why this bothers me a lot more, maybe because Park’s directorial style was unlike anything I had seen before, but it really does.

So even though it’s kind of a rip off of A Streetcar Named Desire, the film definitely still works, has a totally different tone than that film, and a lot more humor. Like that film, the acting is all pretty amazing. I really liked how the flashbacks reflected Jasmine’s mental instability, and overall the film is pretty darn good. I’m not sure if I’m rushing out to see every Woody Allen film ever made, but I wouldn’t shy away from them either.

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“I really need to study!”

Long story short: 3/4

For Further Reading:

Rogerebert.com review

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17 responses to “Blue Jasmine

  1. Definitely rips off Streetcar. But I personally don’t think that a flaw, because, as far as I’m aware, Allen openly admits that he’s here. My bigger issue? This movie is basically without theme.

    But I still completely agree on your other points. This is a tour De force of acting, and always entertaining. Good review.

    • Thanks! Yeah, now that I think about it more, I have a hard time believing that it could have been unintentional. Though why he would need to do his own version of the story is beyond me.
      I mean, Jasmine doesn’t really go through much of an arc, but I think the film still has some themes and is a very good character study. How people can ignore things and construct their own realities, and how sometimes you have to be satisfied with things that aren’t considered the best socially, but are what make you happy. I liked how Ginger’s story ended up, that was pretty awesome.

      • Ginger’s story is also my favorite, as well. As to the themes you mention … I think that they are clouded by the characters. The events tell us about these people more than the human condition in general.

        • It’s a focused and highly personal story, that’s for sure. I would agree with you on that last point but I don’t think that means the film doesn’t say anything about the human condition. The fact that Jasmine almost succeed’s in leading Ginger into her way of thinking (not necessarily the feigned innocence part but definitely warped self worth part) shows how the themes can be widespread. The film could have showed how Jasmine’s old friends may have been more like her, but I think it was implied that they were in many ways (just maybe not as crazy).
          Or maybe I just tend to take themes from books or films and apply them to life. It’s just an assumed thing for me I suppose.

    • What’s the difference between ripped off and reworked? Intention. Personally I wish I had known that this was an intentional reworking of Streetcar before I saw the movie. I wouldn’t have spent so much time puzzling about where I had seen this story before. Then I had to do the research to find out that it was intentional. Now I want to re-see the movie–only I don’t. I found it painfully disturbing, like I was seeing something that I shouldn’t see. It was so sad to see this woman totally unwind. I felt that it was an explanation of why a beautiful woman would end up homeless talking to herself on a park bench. After the movie ended I felt I wanted to know what happened to her. I wanted her to find a happy ending and not be so close to what really happens to people who blindly trust others. As far as reworking stories, it’s done all the time… constantly with Shakespeare’s works… now more often with contemporaries… much to my chagrin with The Great Gatsby (sigh)! Now, honestly, who among you bought/prefer Leonardo DiCaprio’s version of Gatsby over Robert Redford’s? Seriously! Old Sport!

      • Well. I think the newer Gatsby is terrible, so though I’ve never seen the ’70s version, I’ll say that one is better. ;-)

        I basically agree with everything else you’ve said. :-)

        • I think this movie has a theme. We just haven’t come up with it yet. I spent so much time on the “IS THIS REALLY STREETCAR?” concept that I almost missed discovering other aspects. It is practically a dramatic expose into the makings of homelessness. It could almost be a documentary. I’ve lived in cities with many homeless people. Back in the 80′s I lived briefly in New York. I often wondered about the stories of the people I would come across. I thought about depression era movies like My Man Godfrey with whole villages of homeless due primarily to the stock market crash. Many of New York’s homeless were once prominent businessmen. It’s like Woody Allen took Streetcar swooped back to depression era New York and then fast forwarded to today’s economic situations (and then oddly placed the characters in San Francisco which I found TOTALLY confusing). I found it spooky in that whatever makes homelessness is never so far away and watching Jasmine unwind was like “ah but by the grace of God go I….”

          • :-). Consider it on the list.

            As to homelessness … I suppose it’s possible he was heading there. But I would contend that he ended the picture too early (and/or spent too much time on the lead in to her homelessness). Come the end of the picture, we know Jasmine is friendless and has alienated her sister, but we don’t know that she will be entirely unable to find shelter. If Allen wants us to take this as a treatise on becoming homeless, and I’m not sure he does, I’d argue he needed to add a few scenes leaving no doubt Jasmine actually is displaced.

  2. Good review Hunter, you liked this much more than me I can tell. But it’s always nice reading a more positive review of this one so I can see some of the upsides to this utterly depressing story. :D

    • Thanks! Yeah I did have quite a bit of fun with this movie, the humor was a big part of that.
      And Ginger gets a happy ending, I thought anyway. Jasmine’s part of the story is pretty depressing though, I’ll give you that.

  3. Good review Hunter. Woody has never really let his ensemble do the talking for his script, but here, he just gives everybody free reign to do what it is that they want, and it’s a wonderful show to watch. Especially with Blanchett, who definitely seems like she’s going to get an Oscar this year, as well as she should.

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