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.
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.
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.
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.
“I really need to study!”
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