The Vagenda

Blue Jasmine Was Just Two Hours of Watching Cate Blanchett Vom

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famous actors’ potential Oscar nominations) no one seems concerned with pointing out that the story is now 70 years out of date.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.

10 thoughts on “Blue Jasmine Was Just Two Hours of Watching Cate Blanchett Vom

  1. Is it possible that your ideas of relationships are not everyone else’s? There are people who know or have experienced plenty of lying and cheating in relationships and don’t see the characters in this film as being too far out of the ordinary. It happens. To put it another way, yes, you are probably just ridiculously optimistic about human nature. Which is perfectly fine, but that just means this would not be the type of movie you would normally expect to like. I’m ridiculously bored by fantasy/ basic good-and-evil battles, which is why I wouldn’t attempt to watch Lord of the Rings and review it, because I wouldn’t be able to get over the fact that I was mindlessly bored through the movie and it’s just a genre that I inherently dislike.
    Woody Allen’s films are very patently not about every man and every woman; he writes about a very specific group of people drawn mostly from wealthy and educated New Yorkers. I have met and known many men and women of this type and the characters in Blue Jasmine, like the characters in many of his films, ring true to me. The fact that some people in this class still to this day believe that women climb social ladders by marrying into wealth is regrettable, but true, and saying it isn’t so won’t make it go away. To me it didn’t seem at all like this is what Woody Allen thinks all women are, but rather that he knows there are some people who do, and I don’t think he points this out in a very positive way. No good ultimately comes out of any of the lying or cheating in this film, and that was partially the point. It’s as odd to respond to this by assuming it somehow projects onto all women as it would be to suppose that since most people in his movies have a degree in Anthropology, Woody Allen must think that is the only discipline people ever get.
    The “squalor” you mention is not squalor at all, of course, but through people like Jasmine’s eyes it would be squalor and that is all I think is indicated in this film. The differences between the two classes are not absolute but very, very relative.
    About the make-up less face – I was shocked on reading your comments, because I hadn’t even noticed that she is make-up less and had to think about it to remember. I did notice that her eye makeup runs when she cries, and she has armpit stains when stressed; this I found honest and a throwback to European film, and very unlike most of Hollywood where women tend to keep their makeup intact no matter what emotional (or physical) trauma they’re suffering. I thought this was remarkably honest, but in the scenes where you point out that she was make-up less, I had only noticed her hair was unkempt but she still had a magnificent screen presence. It’s Cate Blanchett, after all.
    This and many of Allen’s movies are about flawed relationships and I think this was a great tribute to French film spanning the last 25 years. I found it both funny and dark, and think it’s entirely possible that you watched this film, didn’t like it (not everyone does) and were upset with your wasted time.
    Kudos to Vagenda otherwise for providing well-thought-out and astutely observed light reading.

  2. Yes I agree with Alice, it seems to me that you are suggesting that everything portrayed in this film reflects Woody Allen’s world view, whereas in fact he was portraying a specific social class and the regrettable gender roles and snobbery within it. I don’t think Cate Blanchett was hired as just “a face” either; Allen has paid tribute to her in interviews as the finest actress of her generation, a claim which is given weight to by her performance in this film, I think!

  3. I just saw the film, and I actually think it’s a feminist film. It’s the kind of story my mum used to tell me as a child to remind me to ” never ever depend of a man”. Both sisters are extremely man-dependent. It’s a cautionary tale. I mean it has to be, precisely because of the vast amount of clichés, and the characters being so exaggerated and stereotyped. They are also deliberately naive, walking into obvious traps, everybody his own, like in any self respecting cautionary tale. I couldn’t help laughing when Baldwin announces he’s in love with the au-pair. Yes we saw that scene zillions time, but Baldwin is so cartoonesque as the bastard ( reminded me of his blunt 30 Rock character ) that it was almost like a meta-reference to this kind of scene. But using big cliches and dancing on the edge with them ( with the help of great actors, it wouldn’t work without them) is just part of what Woody Allen cinema’s is about, and one of the reason I like many of his films. And yes these stereotypes are mostly passé, or we would love to think they are passé, and yes it’s old and too late, and almost feels patronizing, but Woody Allen is a 77 years old white man. So the question is: Is Woody Allen ( a 77 years old man) entitled to tell us a cautionary tale about male dependency? Or shall we rejoice that old men are making feminist films? And don’t tell me that was involuntary feminism, there’s no such thing :-)

  4. As much as I normally love the Vagenda blog, I can’t agree with this and actually agree with the comment above. I found Blue Jasmine to be a moving, occasionally disturbing, documentation of the breakdown of a character, and a film which was brilliantly acted by all involved. I feel that Woody Allen has actually done a good job of taking gender stereotypes to their most extreme conclusions to condemn those who conform to them. If anything, Jasmine’s utter dependence on male figures does not promote the gender stereotypes you describe, but in fact demonstrates the danger of women who rely solely on the men in their life, be it for their money, security or happiness. It is exactly this conformity and dependence that leads to Jasmine’s demise, and coupled with her undeniable instability, brings about a genuinely captivating story. And remember, Woody Allen was inspired by a story he heard of a woman who lost her wealth and lavish lifestyle after her husband was convicted of fraud. The gender roles in this story were already there – Allen took them and created a wonderful film in which a cautionary, feminist message can surely be found.

  5. Well, I enjoyed the snarky review. Haven’t seen this particular film, as I find Woody Allen unbearably tedious. Don’t hate me, Allen fans. There’s room for all of us in this world.We should just talk about kittens, instead of cinema.

  6. “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.”

    Some women do view men like this, they don’t believe in themselves enough and end up depending on men financially and socially, I agree with the comments above that the film is clearly a cautionary tale about depending on men (or just another person in general) and that we all have to reatin a certain amount of independence in order to survive.

    “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.”

    I don’t think we were meant to care all too much about Jasmine, I know I didn’t, I found her selfish and shallow but I felt sorry for her, her life was falling apart and she was becoming mentally ill and no matter how shallow and selfish a person is they don’t deserve that. I found the film heart breaking and realistic, all the characters were flawed just as real people are.

  7. Actually, I had no idea what I was watching when this film appeared on my screen. I watched it to see what would become of the characters and due to the good acting, but the end absolutely felt flat to me and there was a bad aftertaste. I’d say that we /are/ sniggering at these characters and not learning from them at all, and that is where my tolerance for what felt ultimately like a hopeless misogynistic lesson ends — It’s all your fault Jasmine. Period. Except…I don’t think it’s all her fault and I did keep hoping she’d truly change (at the same time that I appreciated how hard that would be); her husband was vile to her, but she loved him, and that was what broke her even though we’re made to feel it’s the lack of money — not affection — that’s the real root of the problem.

    I did not believe any of the characters would actually behave as they did, there was a tin quality to their lives. I did like seeing Andrew Clay (I’m unusual that way although his infamy exists for a reason), but his appearance was likely meant as another commentary, subtext, if not to the film then absolutely from the director.

    • Oh, excuse me, I meant to state that I appreciated what you wrote.

      It helped me better understand why I walked away from the film feeling not just slightly cheated but almost angry.

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