My review (spoiler-free)
Blue Jasmine is the story of a wealthy socialite (Jasmine, played by Cate Blanchette) who loses everything and her subsequent attempts to get her life back on track. Written and Directed by Woody Allen, the film opens with Jasmine heading to stay with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco before cutting back and forth between this present-day story and Jasmine’s previous life in New York.
What follows if neither the fish-out-of-water comedy nor the story of redemption that you might imagine. It is funny, but expect gentle chuckles over embarrassing snorts – this is a drama first and foremost. As for redemption? Well, just don’t expect a crowd-pleaser. Or much to like about the lead character.
Because, despite (presumably) being our heroine, Jasmine is a very hard character to love. When we meet her she seems like a caricature – snobby, self-obsessed completely out-of-touch with reality. At the start of the movie this is completely fine (it’s actually the perfect set up for a different film) but if the final credits roll and you feel much the same then it’s a problem. Despite what she goes through I just didn’t feel much sympathy for her. Why not? Well I have my theories, which I’ll save those for the discussion section below.
Actually, much like Jasmine herself, Blue Jasmine is a complicated and frustrating film. It starts strongly, looks beautiful, and the story is both interesting and cleverly done. However, for me, the flaws just outweighed the positives. Although the acting was good, it was played very broadly for a drama (I thought, for example, that Jasmine’s mental illness was particularly OTT and quite offensive). The characters never felt particularly “real” to me, better suited to the pages of a period novel than a contemporary drama. I’ve seen characters compared with those in A Streetcar Named Desire and now wonder if that’s more criticism than compliment? Perhaps, the world has moved on and Woody has not.
A lot to admire, but not a great deal to like. Like Jasmine herself, this one’s intriguing but ultimately hard work.
Would I recommend it?
I didn’t like it, but many might. It’s also grown on me while writing this review and I’m still thinking about it a few days later. Sounds like that’s worth discussing…
Caution: the following discussion contains spoilers which you probably want to avoid it you haven’t seen the movie.
Extended discussion (includes spoilers)
I find it really interesting when a film inspires such wildly different reactions in people. In contrast to my opinion, Blue Jasmine was loved by most critics, nominated for major awards and with an Oscar and BAFTA-winning performance from Cate Blanchett. As it also divided opinion on the Streamers Film Club, I thought I’d go into a little more detail on my own reaction. Please note that what follows assumes that you’ve seen the movie so it’s pretty spoiler-tastic.
Blue Jasmine. What is it?
I couldn’t put my finger on it at first, but I think a major problem I had with Blue Jasmine is that it’s not really one thing or the other. Is it a comedy? A drama? A tragedy? Or even the “Southern Gothic” of A Streetcar Named Desire (with which it shares some story and characters). I’m not sure the film knows itself.
It’s funny, but clearly not trying to be an out-and-out comedy and yet some of the scenes felt extremely broad, even farcical. I thought this worked in places, particularly the excellent opening scenes with Jasmine boring the pants off a random old lady and seeing no alternative to flying first class, but was really jarring in others such as the portrayal of Jasmin’s mental episodes and fending off the amorous dentist. These are serious issues and I felt the handling was pretty throwaway and insensitive. However what I thought was worse, in terms of the film at least, is that they didn’t help me build any sympathy for the lead character.
As a drama I felt it was pretty un-dramatic. I enjoyed the backstory and how it was revealed but very little really happened over the course of 90 minutes. My sister has suggested it’s more of a character study (she is right, I think, and more familiar with Woody Allen’s films) but on this basis I think the characters were just too one-dimensional to sustain it. And as a tragedy? Well let’s come back to that.
Why didn’t I like Jasmine?
Well ultimately, I just didn’t. However, seeing as that’s not very helpful I’ve tried to think about why and came up with two reasons.
I never felt she was really trying hard enough to change her life. True, she got a job with the dentist (bad luck on that one) talked about various grand plans and went back to studying. However, she also quickly reverted to wanting to “find a man” and then seemingly dropped all personal ambitions to be nothing more than arm-candy for Dwight, the first rich successful career man she meets. Now I know Hollywood is not exactly full of strong female characters he’s not exactly Erin Brockovich is she?
Her relationship with Dwight also leads to my second reason, she seems to have learnt nothing and changed very little throughout the movie. She starts the film married to Hal (a smarmy Madoff-like financial conman) and conveniently staying silent about anything that could ruin her “perfect” lifestyle. When she nearly ends it married to Dwight (a smarmy wannabe politician) and just keeping a whole new bunch of secrets, it feels like groundhog day. Her treatment of Augie and her sister, Ginger, when they visited New York was disgusting. Cut to the end of the movie and are things really that different? She still shows no thought for others or appreciation for what they have done for her since she arrived.
How and why has she grown on me since? (major spoilers from here)
I don’t tend to change my mind about a character but a funny thing happened to me when I was writing the review. As much as there were other thing I didn’t like about the film, I think my main issue was that I didn’t like Jasmine. So I started thinking about why, then I started thinking – “what if I was wrong?”.
Here’s someone who gave up everything for a husband who turned out to be a serial cheater and a general crook. Someone who spent much of their life trying to simply ignore any problems on the hope they’d go away. Someone who then finally made a call (literally) and then lost everything including contact with her son. That’s pretty tragic.
So she’s not a nice person when we meet her but she’s also at absolute rock bottom. Could the trauma, the years of conditioning, and the Xanex be the reason she behaves the way she does? It could certainly help explain the denial and lack of motivation to make a fresh start – who wouldn’t be wishing for things all just to click back into place in her position?
How does this change what I think of the film?
It doesn’t change how much I enjoyed it and my other complaints remain. However, it has certainly made me think.
I’m still not sure I totally buy this reading on Jasmine, but it would be fascinating to know if I’d have enjoyed the film more had I felt this way at the time. I think I’d certainly then read Blue Jasmine as a tragedy – with a heroine who is stuck in a destructive cycle of misery and denial. It wouldn’t be a barrel of laughs but maybe it would be a better movie.