Gripping, but Out-dated
Blue Jasmine is obsessed with the notion of loss, specifically the loss of men and money. In this story, men and money are commodities. Our protagonist, Jasmine, defines her life’s worth by them. Men, for her, are simply a way to have money. Her sister, Ginger, is less concerned with money, and more focused on having a man so that… well… she has a man. Everything else is circumstantial.
Jasmine, when her tycoon husband, Hal, is arrested for shady business doings, finds herself suddenly in the poor house. She loses her fancy life and is forced to live with her poor grocery-bagging sister and her sister’s mechanic boyfriend, Chili. She spends the rest of the film trying to find a man and money for herself and encouraging her sister to move-up in life by finding a money-ed man for herself.
Things work out for Ginger because she “wisely” decides she likes her simple life with her simple husband. Things do not work out for Jasmine because she wants that elusive something more. We never really discover what that something more is because she never discovers it, but it clearly has a lot to do with money and the fancy things it can buy.
Woody Allen seems to be suggesting that ambition, pretentious or otherwise, can lead to failure and misery. Anyone with any real ambition is thwarted. Jasmine loses out on two men and a fortune. Ginger’s first husband, Augie, loses out on his lottery winnings that would have been startup money for his own company (he invested in one of Hal’s shady schemes). Hal gets arrested, loses his company, and kills himself.
The only two characters that end up happy are Ginger and Chili. Why? They have no ambition. Both of them are happy and comfortable in their menial jobs. The film paints their “realistic” life as somehow far more truthful and rewarding than wealth and ambition.
I can’t help but wonder if Woody Allen he is feeling dissatisfied by his own fame and success. The terror of existence has always been at the forefront of Allen’s stories. The notion is encoded deep within even his goofy films. He’s made a career out of reminding us that we’re all going to die and we should find things to enjoy while we are still here. He’s always been looking towards death, and so I have no doubt he’s also looking back over his life and wondering what is most important to him and what his lasting contribution will be.
Allen considers this one of his serious films. I must confess that I’ve never been much of a fan of his serious films. That is not to say that I do not take him seriously; I do. And I find many of his films personally meaningful. I just think he’s deeper and more resonant when he maintains a lightness of tone.
That said, in Blue Jasmine, our heroine’s descent into madness isn’t burdened by a lot of brooding, the sort of intense brooding that mars his other pointedly serious films like September and Interiors. When he is trying to be serious, his films come across as pseudo-Bergman. Woody Allen is not Ingmar Bergman, and it bugs me when he apes him.
There is a certain Sturm and Drang quality in Blue Jasmine. The story concerns itself with the violent ups and downs associated with having money and then losing it. There is a definite anti-aristocratic message: enjoy the humble pleasures of a meaningless job and a good stand-up guy.
The story is somewhat old-fashioned in its treatment of gender roles. Jasmine and Ginger seem to be always at the mercy of some man. Happiness is to be found in having a handsome and successful man, or a simple caring man, or enough good looks and skill to secure the interest of men in general. On the flipside, women flounder miserably if the men in their life are not honourable or successful. Um… ick.
Yes, relationships are important. The search for them is not silly or outdated. It is important, however, for people to know themselves before they go searching for partners. After all, what good are you to anyone else if you don’t have your own ambitions sorted-out. In this film, finding men is a worthy ambition in and of itself. Again…ick. This makes me feel rather uncomfortable. In fact, it’s profoundly depressing. I mean, in any partnership, each person should be bringing something substantial to the table.
Here is one plot point that is particularly jarring: Jasmine is a woman in her mid to late forties and she doesn’t know how to use a computer. Really? It’s 2013. The internet exploded almost 20 years ago. How can she not know how to use a computer? We are told that she once had a very active social life that involved the hosting of lavish events, as well as numerous philanthropic activities. The organizing of these events, the doling out of monies… all of it would have required the internet; in today’s world: absolutely.
So, the story comes off subtly old-fashioned. However, what grounds the story and gives it some weight is Cate Blanchett’s performance; it is remarkable! Her presence is the core of the film. This woman is clearly troubled and in a great deal of pain. I couldn’t help but feel for her despite my awareness that there is something very first world about her problems. She is not at all resourceful and it’s because the particular world she inhabited never required her to take care of herself.
So yes, there is an outdated mentality lurking beneath many of the plot points and it rubs me the wrong way. But Blue Jasmine is a good film. If I’m still thinking about it, if it has found some dark little corner of my mind to nestle in, it’s done something right. So, maybe it’s not so much outdated, but simply deals with a phenomenon I know little about and disturbs me greatly: the trophy wife. That is, afterall, the life Jasmine aspires to. And once again… ick.
Blue Jasmine (2013)
Written and Directed by: Woody Allen
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin