I can’t help feeling that Woody Allen’s much lauded new film Blue Jasmine is, in fact, a sexist load of spew. Literally. After seeing it my mother astutely observed that it felt, more than anything else, “like two hours of watching Cate Blanchett vomit”. The whole film was a bit like a cynical glutton’s sweet shop, with a binge of chronic adultery, avarice and over-prescribed Xanax being regurgitated depressingly onscreen.
A low point in the film’s scripting came when Peter Sarsaard’s wealthy but unimaginative politician asked Cate Blanchett’s aging and hysterical socialite (ah, the graceful subtlety of the Hollywood gender binary) to come to Vienna with him where he can teach her to waltz (in what century? It’s like Midnight in Paris, but without the wit) and she can have “as much chocolate cake and wine” as she wants. It’s like she is some kind of bulimic dream-catcher that he can fatten up and hang on his four-poster bed and tie trinkets to. This sounds like a metaphor but in the context of this film it is meant, once again, completely literally. Sarsgaard’s character is explicitly interested in Blanchett’s Jasmine for her beauty, apparent class and sangfroid; Jasmine’s ex, played by the eminent generic-slimeball-impersonator Alec Baldwin was too busy shagging other women to even notice her.
If this all sounds distinctly familiar, it’s because it is. Specifically, the storyline is pilfered (or an “homage” to, depending on where you stand on a bit of creative plagiarism among cult celebrities like Allen) from Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. While Allen’s cunning update of a prewritten depressing tragedy to the modern and depressing scenario of the Bernie Madoff scandal has been celebrated by critics (whose main function is now apparently just to verbally masturbate over famous actors’ potential Oscar nominations) no one seems concerned with pointing out that the story is now 70 years out of date.
Allen and his reviewers (a.k.a. fanboys) seem unaware that not all ‘blue collar’ men are beer-swilling, emotionally incontinent, abusive “lunks” (yes, that’s courtesy of the Guardian, “lunk”) and women are now generally accepted not to come on a scale of vain/bitchy/attractive at one end, down to desperate/poor/unfortunate-looking at the other. On top of which, the idea that women view love as a sort of security, a way of climbing the social and financial ladder (at one point Sally Hawkins’ character actually asks her sister if her new lover is a “step up” from her fiancé) is bizarrely unrealistic. It feels like these stereotypes haven’t just been regurgitated, they’ve been ripped unceremoniously from the half-a-century old literary graves where they lie and resurrected, with some token references to perma-tanned personal trainers, tacky clothing and computers (which, of course, the women don’t know how to use) thrown in.
I would go so far as to say that it is actually an insult to Tennessee Williams, who to his credit wrote ambiguous and troubled characters of both sexes, to compare these characters to Blanche, Stanley and Stella. Where in Tennessee Williams we are charmed by a witty, astute, long-suffering woman who has worked as a school teacher while watching her family go bankrupt and die off, in Allen’s film we are apparently supposed to care two hoots about a woman who is cruel, classist, talentless, invariably unfunny, unintelligent and beige. Lingering close-ups of Cate Blanchett’s make-up-less face do little to remind us of anything other than the fact that that is what she has been hired as: a face. Because the greatest catastrophe that can happen to a woman, as we learnt from Eva Mendes – looking very unconvincingly drab – in A Place Beyond the Pines, is to take off their make up. Nothing screams trauma like a super-model with sweat-patches and bad hair. Right?
And if you were expecting some light relief from Sally Hawkins’ Ginger, the sister who got unlucky in genes (and love, and her children, and her work…because in Hollywood, there’s no such thing as nuance, and don’t you forget it)you’d be sorely disappointed. There is not a single character in this film who isn’t cheating on their partner, stealing, lying or basically categorised as a “lunk” or a “snob” (or both, for good measure).
The only character that treads the line around this bubble of amoral chaos is Jasmine’s estranged stepson Danny. But even he gets drug addiction and a retreat into the self-imposed ‘squalor’ of a second-hand music store to deal with. It bears pointing out here that Allen’s idea of squalor is, if not working in a music store (horror!) then, in Ginger’s case, living in a quirky San Francisco apartment with views of the sea. It’s reminiscent of the classic internal joke in Sex and the City: that Carrie could possibly afford that apartment and those clothes off her salary from a single column, or that Phoebe in Friends was renting her central Manhattan apartment on a masseuse’s salary.
The concerning thing here, though, is that the Hollywood gloss over issues like poverty and gender stereotypes suggests that Allen isn’t being quite as satirical as I would like to think you’d have to be to make such a unpleasant film. The lack of wit and the equally mainstream and old-fashioned carping against both sexes makes it seem like this might just be how Allen sees the world… Perhaps I missed the point, or am just ridiculously optimistic about human nature. But it was my understanding that satire is meant to be both funny and dark, and Blue Jasmine was just plain boring.