Thursday, December 26, 2013

Blue Jasmine: Only the Pulp Remains

Posted By on Thu, Dec 26, 2013 at 10:22 AM

click to enlarge Cate Blanchett in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine
  • Cate Blanchett in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine

The stellar Cate Blanchette completely fails in this film. Woody Allen forgot to write her character. For one thing, Jasmine has no backstory, except the fact that she was adopted, and dropped out of college to marry the wealthy con artist Hal. Is her adoption essential to her personality? Do adoptees become sociopaths? (Jasmine's sister — also adopted — is not a compulsive liar, but she ran away young from their adoptive home.) Is Blue Jasmine a manifesto against adoption? (During my 15-year addiction to Howard Stern, I was impressed by his heated attacks on the practice of adopting children. At the very least, Howard convinced me that this process is perilous.) Is it meaningful that Jasmine studied anthropology before leaving college? Is she, in some metaphoric sense, an anthropologist? Isn't everyone who rockets from one social class to another inevitably a scholar of human culture?

What about all the references to "A Streetcar Named Desire"? Are they relevant to the movie, or just an easy structure for the plot? Blue Jasmine is like a madman shooting randomly in a train station. Woody Allen attacks the upper middle class, Jews, dentists, sensitive Filipino supermarket managers, effete diplomats, sound engineers, yoga instructors. But Blue Jasmine can't be a tragedy, because the hero lacks nobility. Jasmine doesn't have a tragic flaw; she IS a tragic flaw.

When Hal leaves Jasmine for an au-pair, is Woody ridiculing himself? (Remember, Woody essentially married his daughter. Wait a minute, his girlfriend's ADOPTED daughter!)

I suspect Woody directs these movies just to stay busy, and to make a few bucks. No one would have bet on he and Bob Dylan sharing similar fates, but they do. Dylan tours constantly, though his voice is shot. Why? He's an icon, and also utterly irrelevant. (Perhaps an icon MUST be utterly irrelevant.) Woody is 78, Dylan 72. They are like those Jewish lawyers who work into their 90s. What else can they do? Stay home and play pinochle?

It's all our fault. We, the audience, have told Woody and Bob they are geniuses for so long that we've convinced them. Dylan steals lines from the poet of the Confederacy, Henry Timrod; Woody cribs from Tennessee Williams. Their late works leave us unsatisfied but inwardly pleased. We have squeezed everything out of them, and only the pulp remains.

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