Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine Returns to a World That's Not Quite Earth

For anyone who's been going to the movies at all regularly over the past 45 years, Woody Allen is practically family. His movies may draw fewer passionate responses than they did in the '70s and '80s, but we still feel compelled to reckon with him. Whenever Allen comes out with a new one—which he continues to do with alarming frequency—those of us who still care even moderately may ask, "How is he this time?" as if he were an infirm relation who's reached the stage where he's blessed with more bad days than good ones.

Blue Jasmine is a bad day. Cate Blanchett's Jasmine is a fragile little thing who's in a fix. She used to have money, but finds herself washed up because of malfeasance on the part of her now-absent big-businessman husband (Alec Baldwin). She lights on the San Francisco home of her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), armed with a passel of Louis Vuitton suitcases filled with posh-girl outfits. Ginger dresses in working-class brights and synthetic fabrics, and she takes up with, in Jasmine's estimation, the "wrong" men—her current beau is Bobby Cannavale's dese/dem/dose hunk whose mere presence gets right under Jasmine's Crème de la Mer–nourished skin.

Although Jasmine would prefer to rely on the kindness of strangers, she must learn a trade. But what? How about interior decorating? She's convinced she can earn the necessary certificate online, but knows nothing about computers. So Jasmine does what any self-respecting Woody Allen character would do in 2013: She enrolls in a computer class, for which she must study assiduously after-hours, even in her spare time at the receptionist job she reluctantly takes.

Details

Blue Jasmine
Written and directed by Woody Allen
Sony Pictures Classics
Opens July 26

Related Stories

More About

You can forgive Allen for thinking "computer school" is the best way to "get online." But Blue Jasmine is so relentlessly clueless about the ways real human beings live, and so eager to make the same points about human nature that Allen has made dozens of times before, that it seems like a movie beamed from another planet.

Allen wants to examine human beings without actually touching them. That's nothing new, and plenty of his movies—like the sterile, condescending Match Point—are guilty of it. But Midnight in Paris, brushed with the anxious, dreamy desire to be somewhere else, suggested Allen might have gotten off this kick. Going back to 1920s Paris isn't a realistic method of escaping your neuroses, but wouldn't it be wonderful if it were?

In Blue Jasmine, Allen is back in full-on sourpuss mode, even as he purports to be providing a grand showcase for Blanchett. Other actors don't fare so well. Louis C.K. shows up as one of Ginger's suitors, and he and Hawkins have an easy rapport, like puppies gamboling in the grass—their scenes together are the breeziest and most enjoyable in the movie. But it's too good to last: C.K.'s character is turned into a handy symbol of how human beings just let you down. Only Andrew Dice Clay, in a small role as Ginger's Low-Class™ onetime husband, 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.

But Blanchett is the movie's centerpiece, the fragile porcelain bird perched oh-so-high on its mantel. She has played almost this exact role before, onstage, as Blanche DuBois in a Liv Ullmann–directed version of A Streetcar Named Desire.I saw that production at BAM, and you could practically hear Blanchett's eyelashes fluttering, but that doesn't necessarily make a great Blanche—the performance was touching in places, but it was also mannered and precise, like an artfully torn piece of silk.

The same goes for Blanchett as Jasmine, a troubled soul who talks to herself in ghostly, flirtatious patter, swanning about in a cream-colored Chanel jacket, a remnant of the previous, pampered life she can't quite leave behind. Jasmine is ill-equipped to live in the normal world, where people bleed, sweat, and have a sex drive. She rebuffs the sexual advances of her boss (Michael Stuhlbarg) as if he were the smelliest of cavemen and not just a possibly lonely guy who finds her attractive. (Allen makes sure we see his wedding ring, just so we know he's a scumbag.)

Jasmine prefers to retreat into flashbacks, and this is how we learn she's not quite—or not just—the fragile victim she appears to be. She is supposed to be complex, challenging, affecting. Blanchett strikes each note as precisely as if she were hitting the bars on a xylophone, and in this way, she fits into Allen's schematic perfectly. Maybe the idea is that he, like her, feels lost in the modern world, where people use computers to "get online." But he's not the first seventysomething to feel left behind, and he won't be the last. The chief tone he strikes in Blue Jasmine is one of simpering self-pity. Blanche DuBois covered the bare lightbulb in her room to create enchantment. Allen would rather just tell us how hot and ugly it is.

 
My Voice Nation Help
28 comments
angiealee
angiealee

 It seems like the critic does not know about how people live at all including super wealthy and the mid to lower class people.  Everything Allen portrayed in the movie is so real and harsh in a sense that no body would dare to admit but only he . 

Lpdite
Lpdite

You really need to go outside and take a breather...and learn how to review.

Your ability to discern is egregiously lacking. You really have no understanding of the film, or of Allen (and are clearly biased). 

indiesoc2
indiesoc2

You're mannered and precise, like an artfully torn piece of silk.  Seriously -- this is film criticism, not Composition 101.

ittarter
ittarter

SPOILERS. Ms Zacharek, you completely missed the point of the film. It's about the lies people live, not about fitting into the modern world. Jasmine has a single point where she bursts and lets out the truth -- when she makes the phone call. Other than that, she infects her sister and starts her thinking down the line of social currency, exchanging her good boyfriend for one she knows nothing about (exactly what Blanchett's new beau does shortly thereafter). The healthy relationship is ironically the one with the shitty apartment and the guy who rips the phone out of the wall. Look again, madam. This one is well-crafted.

bahumbugg55
bahumbugg55

Did you just call a guy who preys on a lonely, poor employee a "possibly lonely guy who finds her attractive"?  Buddy, it isn't Woody's but your world view that needs brushing up.

shelemm
shelemm

What a weird review.  I'm glad I ignored it and just went out and enjoyed the movie, despite the fact that "Allen wants to examine human beings without actually touching them."

Even if that were true, human beings are perfectly worth examining, so I am not sure what her turn of phrase gets me at the end of the day.   

Self-important reviewing I can do without. 


eattelf46
eattelf46

" You can forgive Allen for thinking 'computer school' is the best way to "get online."

Huh??? What makes you think that's what Woody Allen thinks?? That's what the character thinks -part of the point being that she's completely clueless about normal life skills. It's pretty hard to take anything else in your review seriously after such a weird misinterpretation.

trish5
trish5

I have to agree with @anthonycelio--this review is totally off, and even strikes me as personal. Yes, Woody Allen's characters are exaggerated, and often a mix of the comical and tragic. And personally, I know at least a few people who have never made the leap to modern technology (not so dissimilar from the case of Jasmine's). Why that is even an issue for our critic is beyond me, and somehow I doubt Woody Allen is one of those people. While Jasmine's may be an exaggerated case, it illustrates the point of how failing to exercise due diligence can contribute to a demise. Jasmine is the classic tragic heroine who is where she is because of a history of poor choices, causality and fate. So if you want to criticize Woody Allen for following classic formats--whoop-dee-do for you. It's a style that seems to have worked pretty well for thousands of years for many playwrights/writers, which might even have a little something to do with his success. Allen likes to play with the balance of fate, causality and free will--and allegory. If there is an interesting question in all of this concerning Woody Allen as both an auteur and a person, I think it would have to be about his history in relationships, and how it has affected his work. That said, I agree once again with @anthonycelio about the dentist. "Just a lonely guy?" Really? Wow.

jneusner1
jneusner1

wonderful review. Thank you. The movie was so fake and lifeless. You nailed it.

anthonycelio
anthonycelio

Everybody knows Woody Allen has never been on earth. His films are sarcastic, melodramatic, hyperboles woven together with delusional worrying.

Speaking of earth I'd like to say it is a planet where film critics must articulate what they mean. Why and how the moving pictures work or don't work. The critic deems this movie bad because the characters aren't "real". Money and social standing play an obscene roll in our culture. It governs everything. The game we play puts us into bizarre situations and makes us fools. I know people that lost money with Madoff. I know tactless people that work with their hands and rich people with no soul and no ability to fend for themselves. For me, this movie nailed the crux of the comedy and tragedy of money.

How and why does this critic know who Woody Allen is? She knows what he's done, she knows what he's trying to do, she hoped he would have made better choices, she hopes he would have moved on from some of his older, contrived themes because she hopes he would have gotten them out of his system. This would all be irreverent even if she knew Woody Allen better than he knows himself.

Whenever a critic gets presumptuous about what the writer/director was trying to symbolize it's a red flag. Or say something like, 'The work means such and such because the biography of the person that made it is such and such'. This critic is guilty of what she is accusing this film of doing and that is 'being schizophrenicly out of this world in some intellectual orbit. Maybe she saw her reflection.

Also, how could this critic defend the dentist? That scene was terror, Kafka style, even if it was in a parody of Kafka.

nwberger
nwberger

"(Allen makes sure we see his wedding ring, just so we know he's a scumbag.)"  Although as you point out Allen is out to lunch with most of his characters in this movie he certainly is an expert in scumbaggedness.

ibad91
ibad91

Seems like you think these aren't how real people act because it's not how you act.

andrewj54
andrewj54

Absolutely brilliant!  This has provided me with a quantum of solace in the midst of all of the euphoria about this movie and the lavish praise being heaped on Blanchett for what was essentially a cartoonish portrayal of mental illness.  Thank you for your perceptiveness and integrity in telling it like it is.

Stevart
Stevart

Excellent review Steph.  The UWS schmuck has been projecting his self-hating Jewishness upon reality for way too long.  He's nothing more than a bandy-legged stand-up comedian who apes the style of European masters to disguise his inability to truly plumb the depths of the human heart.  His jabbering observations like his conclusions are ALWAYS superficial and cheap.  Together with that other overrated POS Nora Epron he has done more damage to comedy than can be calculated.  Not to mention giving birth to the next generation of no-talent schmucks like Seinfeld, Soderbergh, Baumbach, Silverman, i.e., their name is Legion.  

melvinhermille
melvinhermille

There are few things more pathetic than a self-important critic. The first symptom always manifests as an attempt to be clever as if to say, "I know I'm just a critic but I'm creative ( like Woody Allen)!" The reverberations of Ms. Zacharek patting herself on the back nearly shook my morning coffee off the desk while I read this.  

ywsf
ywsf

Wow. who is this critic? Obviously she knows nothing about Woody Allen. He dissects people. Examines them with great detail and comes to profound conclusions about the human condition. Sour puss....try sarcastic. His humor about people is spot on and brilliant. I suggest the critic go back to her day job at Starbucks. That's about all she knows about film.

plainviewenergyresou
plainviewenergyresou

Zacharek's tired Paulinista list of the Favored and the Damned is tiresome.

Gael Sweeney
Gael Sweeney

You know, this movie isn't about a superhero, it isn't a cartoon, monsters don't come out of the ocean or from outer space, and no one takes over the White House. And Johnny Depp doesn;t wear a bird on his head in it. So, I'm there.

bstein4323
bstein4323

I worry about people who find the film amusing, as if mental illness is a subject for yocks.  It's awful when the king, or in this case, the queen is naked, and so few people see it. 

jneusner1
jneusner1

total agreement. the movie so bad on every level. "quantum of solace" brilliant turn of phrase in this instance

Stevart
Stevart

@steviej "Upper-crust of Mr. Allen's home town" OI VEY! "Get thee to a nunnery."

Filmlover
Filmlover

@Stevart What a bunch of anti-semitic, vile, hateful comments. Truly disgusting.

ahrmonphone
ahrmonphone

@Stevart Late to the game here, but, wow, man...I didn't know they had wi-fi at pogroms now.

Binkconn
Binkconn topcommenter

@ywsf  Uh, Woody rarely comes to 'profound' conclusions about the human condition; Crimes & Misdemeanors is existentialism 101, Midnight In Paris is like a college sophomore thesis about how living in the present is better than being trapped in nostalgia. Zacharek is spot-on about Woody being out of touch with how anybody beyond the Upper West Side actually behaves.

trish5
trish5

@bstein4323 Yes, it is awful, and I think that your point was well-illustrated. I don't think anyone looks at Jasmine and says, "Hooray, Jasmine!" But is there never a laugh amidst a tragedy? Come on. And another way to look at it is that this a portrait of someone who is a bit (if not a lot) despicable at the end of the day. She's made her own bed, and yet she still defends it to the very end. That's madness. She is also pitiable. Here's someone who could come across as quite lovely--so much so, that even as the truth unfolds, she still holds the ability to charm and engage. Even her sister to whom she wasn't very good wants to help her. It's a fascinating story. People who could have the world by the balls... if only... And many do, despite having so many similar qualities--or so it would seem. ;)

Stevart
Stevart

@Filmlover @StevartThat's exactly what I've been telling the Wood man for years but he won't listen.  I guess you can't shine sh!t.  Go figure...

 

Now Showing

Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

Box Office Report

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!

Loading...