Blue Jasmine

Rating:

Woody’s World: the unhappiest place on Earth

Main Cast: Cate Blanchett, Andrew Dice Clay

Director: Woody Allen

My wife is a big Woody Allen fan. I wouldn’t characterize myself as a fan, exactly, but I’ve certainly enjoyed some of his films.  So it was with pleasant anticipation that we attended a matinee of Blue Jasmine last weekend. When the movie ended, as we filed out of the theater into the bright afternoon sunlight, I turned to my wife and asked her what she thought.  Her response was immediate and unequivocal: “I hated it.”

Yeah, me too.

Film buffs can probably trace Mr. Allen’s misanthropy to the very beginnings of his nearly 50 year career – but I don’t know if he’s ever made a movie that is as bleak and uncharitable as Blue Jasmine.  Make no mistake, Cate Blanchett gives a riveting performance – she utterly inhabits the title role, and her nuanced portrayal of a socialite’s economic and mental disintegration is a tour de force demonstration of her acting chops.

Allen is renowned for getting career-best performances from his actors, and although Blanchett will garner most of the acclaim for Blue Jasmine, the supporting cast does fine work as well – but to no avail.  They’re betrayed by a thin, lifeless script that strands them as one-dimensional archetypes, strutting and fretting for no apparent reason: the sleazy financier ex-husband; the good-hearted simpleton sister; the mouth-breather boyfriend; the oily diplomat; ad nauseum.  All the acting talent in the world

Cate Blanchett by Thore Siebrands

Cate Blanchett

can’t rescue these characters from Allen’s myopic script, because there’s no “why” to them – we don’t understand them and we ultimately don’t care about them.

I winced when I saw Andrew Dice Clay on the credits, but ironically, his is the one character who seems to exist in more than one dimension.  He’s a simple Everyman who exudes bonhomie and belligerence in equal and appropriate measures.  As Stephanie Zacharek wrote in the Village Voice review, Dice’s Augie “…pierces the movie’s highly polished bubble world; he comes off as a person whose veins run with blood rather than some liquefied director’s conceit.”

The story is indeed a conceit: at once painfully intimate and clinically remote.  Allen has been sequestered in his Upper East Side gilded cage for so long, he’s increasingly unable to craft a tale to which we proles can relate.  When he takes on the theme of the devastating effects of the Great Recession (or alternatively, a parable of financial malfeasance and greed), he chooses to portray it via the cautionary tale of a delusional, Dior-wearing One Percenter.  Blanchett’s Jasmine is a repugnant bundle of psychosis, pathos, and privilege – her situation is tragic, to be sure, but she’s such a bitch that we simply aren’t moved by her downfall – we’re merely spectators at something rather unpleasant.

Woody Allen by David Shankbone

Woody Allen

In stark contrast to his cinematographic love affairs with Manhattan, Paris, and Barcelona, Allen shows little interest in San Francisco’s visual allure.  With the exception of one overly-bright scene on a bayside deck in Sausalito, the City is relegated to a few anonymous and mostly depressing street scenes that could have easily been filmed in Hoboken. Indeed, the film is so permeated with East Coast sentiment, flashbacks, and characters that it makes one wonder why San Francisco is named at all, unless it’s to conclusively demonstrate that we’re not in Manhattan anymore, Toto.

Just this morning my wife and I were discussing the remarkable consistency Larry David demonstrates in all his work.  From Seinfeld to Curb Your Enthusiasm to his latest HBO movie Clear History, David pretty much tells the same utterly self-referential story over and over again.  But he does it with wit and a tacit nod toward how ridiculous it all is.

Woody Allen displays a similar tendency to repeat himself.  He’s been singing the existential blues of the unimaginably wealthy intellectual class for decades now, but with ever greater rancor and less humor.  The song is getting tiresome.

Blue Jasmine ultimately fails because Jasmine the character is haughty, pathetic, and almost pathologically self-absorbed.  It’s a losing proposition for a film, but – sadly – not an inapt description of Woody Allen himself.

photos by Thore Siebrands and David Shankbone

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