Despite setting nearly all of his films in the world of the bourgeoisie intelligencia and inhabiting that world himself, Woody Allen has always had an affinity for the blue color and an itching disdain for the sourness of excess. This is never clearer than in his most recent triumph, Blue Jasmine. Telling the story of a rags to riches to rags socialite whose wealth vanishes after revelations of white collar crime, the film pits classes squarely against each other and clearly favors the frankness of common folk over the pretense of the wealthy.
His thesis is that, well, money is the root of all kinds of evil, and this is mainly because it feeds a consuming pride rooted in all of us. Early in the film, it is revealed that the film’s titular figure Jasmine (an entrancingly haggard and possibly Oscar-bound Cate Blanchett) changed her name from Janette to divorce herself from her lowly beginnings, and throughout the film, Allen builds a narrative motif of deceit to highlight the tendency to lie to ourselves; an inclination to wear facades in the hope they one day become reality. Though Jasmine knows deep down that she is actually the adopted and ordinary Janette, this very fact is the primary source of her debilitating anxiety. With the evidence of affluence, she once could much more easily convince herself of her superiority to others, but without it, she has no definition and desperately fights against the reality of her normalcy.
Allen’s point, perhaps, is that wealth many times traps its victims by forcing them to justify their excess, and this subconscious shame and misplaced ego automatically builds a stubborn resentment for those without. For Jasmine, she is trapped either way – either she must meet the vain and lofty requirements of exorbitance or she must move forward by admitting her many wrongs and cruel slights. What Allen so movingly shows us is that many times people who lose meaning found in material things have the strength to do neither.
A strong ***½ out of ****
|Blanchett is simply phenomenal as Jasmine.|
Although this choice may prove alienating to a wider audience, it perfectly fits with the story Allen is telling about a woman who refuses to let go of her past and allow herself to recognize any of her own faults as attributing to her downfall. And instead of providing us relief by giving us peripheral characters that we can better relate to, Allen provides other flawed characters who make often poor choices that seem to highlight and underline all of the interesting ideas he presents. Cate Blanchett does bravado and Oscar-worthy work here, stripping her character completely naked (not in the physical sense) and revealing the delusion and sadness beneath as Allen takes us into his protagonist’s inner workings, through the memories of her past life. Other actors are also excellent, including Sally Hawkins as her sister Ginger, who you should also check out in the fantastic Happy-Go-Lucky. Allen riskily and masterfully tells this strikingly bleak story that is a study of how people rarely change and reminds us that we must look honestly at ourselves if we are to improve.
***1/2 out of ****
(Per usual, we agree.)
I appreciate you pointing out the common anthem of many in calling for tidy resolutions and nicely packaged answers. I, too, have noticed this impulse and if I had to guess, I would say it stems from a discomfort in having unanswered questions. The very fact that this film (and Young Adult for that matter) leaves its characters’ arcs in a state of flux forces viewers to process the film and postulate what would happen next. In doing this, whether they like it or not, viewers are assessing the characters and dissecting motivation. This, to me, is far more valuable than the simple moral slogans of many more popular films, for it asks people to be more involved in the viewing experience. Films like this force us to ask questions and critically process rather than swallow and regurgitate pad answers.
|Deep in memory.|
I thought that Allen’s use of flashbacks were masterful here. There are so many filmmakers playing around with timelines in an excessive and distracting fashion that we forget this sort of crosscut storytelling can be very effective filmic shorthand. Allen has never been one to over-complicate his films, and I think that is why he can be so prolific, and also so hit-or-miss. His dramatic films either have a very solid thematic core or they don’t, so his trademark stark focus on character and dialogue hinges heavily on the substance of the ideas he presents. Luckily, here, the ideas are both interesting and challenging.
|Ginger, your hair!|
I didn’t read the film as so much of a judgment on the wealthy as you did. Certainly, there is a social critique of this particular type of aristocratic lifestyle in the story, but I think Allen is much more interested in the minds of the characters themselves. I felt like Jasmine’s coming into wealth was just the inciting incident that brought out her worst characteristics and fed them, but it could have been any number of things that revealed her pride: fame, talent, etc.
|Alec Baldwin is really good at playing rich men.|
In other words, by virtue of the film using wealth as the impetus for Jasmine’s sourness, Allen implies that this is bound to happen in any culture that prioritizes personal agency in creating wealth. Individualistic societies simply feed selfish human impulses because they very easily preclude humility in success.
|Ginger and her decent, but hot-tempered boyfriend.|
The film definitely comments on the habits we form and the inability of many to find new patterns. I think this feeds into the motif of deceit, for just as the characters hope their facades will transform them into their own ideal, they also deceive themselves into believing the same paths will work out better next time. Pride keeps them from taking the onus themselves, so they see no issue with making the same choices. Allen is commenting on the difficulty in admitting fault, and the destructive ease at which we blame others for our own shortcomings.
|A new romance.|
Allen perfectly presents a compelling and depressing argument that people rarely perceive their own faults and seek to change, choosing instead to lie to themselves. It’s a fantastic film, and a story that will hopefully challenge its audiences to reflect on their own faults and perhaps escape any of their own negative cycles.
Two-as-One Rating: ***½ out of ****