Blue Jasmine – Woody Allen and Cate Blanchett make ugly lovely. (Film Review)

Make no mistake, I like Woody Allen films – but that’s a little like saying “I’m not racist, some of my best friends are black” because it can seem like an apologist statement on its own. One of my favorite films is Husbands and Wives, even with the rabid stealing from Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage, but there is a piece of me that can’t get my mind around how he has gotten away with all the robbery he’s done over the years, and I can’t shake the feeling he’s not 100% sure how he’s gotten away with it either.  Woody Allen is sort of like the Coldplay of film, and even though we call all see the Streetcar influence here, I haven’t seen if Allen has credited it formally. One thing he does do, is direct women well, and as he said in a recent interview, in the Wall Street Journal (!) he doesn’t like to cast himself in the lead male role any longer because he likes to be “the lover” (he’s too old for that now). If he can’t cast himself, he still likes to make love to women with his pen and his camera. What makes Husbands and Wives a standout, besides the great writing, is Judy Davis, and her incredible “how-did-she-lose-that-Oscar” winning performance and he’s done it all again here with Blue Jasmine, writing a film that is nothing other than an opportunity for a fine actress to win an academy award.

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Blue Jasmine as a piece of narrative film making is pretty terrible. Much has been made of the contempo comparisons with Streetcar, and as usual, Allen is better at something borrowed than he is with something new. Except for the lead role, and several scenes that step almost without alteration out of Streetcar, there is nothing to Blue Jasmine. There are strange emotional holes (why she is so attached to her husbands son from a previous marriage when she can’t form a mature relationship with anyone is a mystery) narrative streaks that start out of no where and end at no where (her computer course begins and ends without a start or a finish of any kind) dull, unambitious camerawork (San Francisco has never looked so boring) and a down right offensive attempt at an examination of the distance between rich and poor and what the journey between them entails (I wish I could afford an apartment like that on a check-out-chicks salary).

Cate Blanchett in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine

However, the character of Jasmine has some moments where the sublime lurches forward and Allen is able to reach the depths that keep us returning to his films. Jasmine’s unconsciousness isn’t just irritating, it is profound. It is typical of Allen to side step genuine issue analysis with caricature, but you can see a self-conscious judgement seeping out of Jasmine that is an Allen trick that makes us forgive his oh-so-many sins.  Jasmine is not a likeable character, and we know Woody Allen is writing about himself. Her tormented anger born of self-loathing compounds under her refusal to accept responsibility, and only a person with years of analysis who makes jokes about getting his money back from Freud in the afterlife (as Allen did in To Rome with Love) can consider that confession an absolution. Allen uses his films to assuage his guilt, we all see this as it forms the foundation of his repetitive structure, but he also uses them to inform us that he is aware of all his problems in the same way a much-loved prodigal returns to the father.  It is this complicated relationship Allen has with his audience that makes Jasmine such a strong character in a film that is poorly written in every other way, and when Jasmine is so completely unlikable.

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If Woody Allen can make us love him by making himself ugly through his self-portraits, then where he is particularly exceptional is in directing women. He certainly does like to be “the lover”, and again life imitates art and vice versa in that he creates these astounding female performances, so much like a Henry Higgins of film.  Give me a woman (that I find attractive) and no matter where she is in her career, I will make her a star. Women stroked with the Allen Midas touch start with Dianne Keaton and work all the way up to (now) Cate Blanchett, and include names like Mia Farrow, Mariel Hemingway, Meryl Streep, Juliette Lewis, Diane Wiest, Judy Davis, Mira Sorvino and Penelope Cruz, just to name a few.  Men get nominated, but with the exception of Michael Caine and Allen himself, they rarely win, and all the memorable performances come from women.  Allen can place himself in a woman better than he can in a man (pardon the pun), donning a kind of emotional drag in order to get to the heart of himself.

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So with all this build up, the main reason you see a Woody Allen film, has always been, and continues to be, for the character writing and the performance, and Blue Jasmine leaves you satisfied on both counts. Cate Blanchett is certainly as good as everyone says, although I couldn’t shake the feeling she was manifesting Judy Davis out of Husbands and Wives.  I can’t tell who was causing this – Allen or Blanchett – and I have read good cases for both, but Jasmine is definitely, in some way, born of that all time stand out performance of Davis as Sally in Husbands and Wives. Still, whichever way you look at it, Blanchett still had to play it well, even if she was “being Judy Davis” and she does an outstanding job, softening all those angles that usually leave us a little pierced by a perfectionist performance from her. Cate Blanchett can seem a little impenetrable, as if she’s more meant for stage rather than screen, but she’s at home in Jasmine’s psyche and under the tender touch of Allen. The two work very well together to bring to fruition what Allen does best. Self Delusion.

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I’ve added the You Tube’s of Judy Davis and Cate Blanchett.  If you have time its worth the comparison, and the Judy Davis scene is just a masterful piece of comic brilliance anyway.

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