Cate Blanchett (Jasmine) and Sally Hawkins (Ginger), heroines of Blue Jasmine, walking with Eddie (Max Casella), friend to Chili (Bobby Carnevale) Ginger’s fiancée
Dear friends and readers,
This is mildly to recommend Woody Allen’s effective re-making of Tennessee Williams’s powerful play, Streetcar Named Desire. Mildly I say because if you are in a distressed state (in a hard place yourself), its relentless portrayal of the character types first brought to life by Williams and now created with less exaggeration and given new relevance and habitations and circumstances of the year 2013 may hit very hard. Unlike most of Allen’s films which take us into anguish, loss, desperation, dislocation, alienation, sheer need for companionship, the characters are not seen through a slightly fantastic comic lens (e.g., You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger). This film retains a realistic core, and despite the characters’ often gay or cheerful and high-spirited surface, is a somber piece.
Cate Blanchett again takes on a role of Blanche Debois (a role she played with her Australian troupe a couple of years ago): Jasmine is like in type but her situation was that of a crook financial dealer’s pampered wife, living a super-glamorous super-rich life — until Hal (Alec Baldwin) wants to leave her for a teenager (shades of Allen), and she suddenly phoned the FBI on him, showing that she has had an idea all along (for years), he was a crook, a financial speculator who (like Anthony Trollope’s Melmotte) took other people’s money and lived off it himself, pretending to invest in sound schemes. She signed all sorts of documents for years, saying she understood nothing of money (alas, shades of me). Hal goes to jail, kills himself (hanged himself with a rope she says), and now she’s got no one and nothing. We meet her on the rebound, broke, coming to live with Ginger, her sister, neglected and half-despised up to now. Jasmine lives by lying, by inventing delusions (she’s renamed herself), clinging to high ideals for herself, when she hasn’t the education to work a computer, even minimally.
Jasmine does not want not to take a menial job oh no, but she’s no money for college courses, so she is forced to take a job as a dentist’s receptionist (gotten her by Eddie, Ginger’s boyfriend’s friend) to pay for computer courses. How can she take an online course as an interior decorator until she learns how to use a computer? Eventually she meets Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), a man rich, well connected, a diplomat and nearly fools him into marrying her: she lies that she is an interior decorator and her husband was a noted surgeon. (Dwight improbably does not check up.)
Under her influence Ginger, her sister almost loses her boyfriend in an effort to get a more middle class boyfriend who turns out to be married and wants Ginger only for wild sex.
The Stella of the piece, Sally Hawkins as Ginger, was not liked by their mother, and married as best she could, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) a working class male who once won a lottery, and was naive enough to allow Hal to fleece him of the sum. The marriage broke up, and neither have had any opportunity to rise in the world since. Sally now works as a supermarket clerk, long hard hours and for enough years to have a beautifully-appointed flat (Allen’s characters are often in aesthetically alluring settings). Her boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Carnevale) may remind us of Stanley in his crudeness, vulgarity, poker night, and justified resentment against Jasmine whose presence in the flat is preventing Chili from moving in, and who continually denigrates him — and Sally herself too as “losers,” living low status (very bad) lives.
But Chili is not a murderous thug-rapist, as Sally is not submissive, nor enthralled (like Stella), both are actively compromising, settling for one another because they don’t feel threatened when they are together, enjoy themselves simply. Glad not to have too much asked. Thus the situation not as explosive, so more nuanced strained happenings & dialogues occur (than in Williams’s play), in which the viewer may recognize in his or her own life. The theme of class injuries in Allen’s movie is as significant as that of assuaging loneliness by cheerful passing of time frivolously together. Both more important than sex (so central to Streetcar).
The above are the present-time stories. As they move forward, interlaced are Jasmine’s memories, the back story of her marriage to Hal, and Ginger and Augie’s visit to Hal and Jasmine for a week in NYC.
The climax of the movie is in the back story, one of Jasmine’s memory-flashbacks: when Hal is taken off by the FBI. Hal’s life reminds of us big bankers today — except he’s caught.
This vignette (of him taken) emerges from her mind when Augie meets up with her and Dwight just as Dwight is about to buy her an engagement ring and the full story of her life is glimpsed by Dwight, who thereupon drops her. But Jasmine has learnt from Augie that her step-son, Danny (Alden Ehrenreich) is living in Brooklyn, working in a computer store and goes to him in desperate need, but Danny will have none of her or his father’s inflated norms. Leave him be with his wife, honest job, and coming son.
The movie is a lot less bleak than Streetcar where a more primitive need for sheer companionship & financial support whatever it costs you emotionally or socially) drives Stanley and Stella; Blanche Dubois is the woman susceptible to sexual exploitation of the rawest kind. Jasmine has kept her woman’s pride; when the dullard dentist goes after her sexually, she refuses him, not like Blanche to hide her past, but because she genuinely has enough self-esteem not to grab at anyone. The characters do enjoy themselves at times, and have small wins.
Ginger is self-supporting. Allen’s movie rather has poignancy, pain, anger, social laughter but at a less raw level than Williams’s play.
And I think there is a kind of post-feminism to the piece, as Allen makes his characters and narrative dramatize middle class difficulties. What leapt out at me though is how woman find their solution in life, make their adjustment by marrying the right man for them. Once he is in place, they are okay financially and they need not worry about companionship or finding what to do next.
That’s that Jasmine had with Hal; what Ginger has with Chili (and he with her, he needs her as badly as she him). They need their men. But a woman has to have something to offer him he wants.
And of course that was not exactly what I needed to be reminded of. Jim and I made it as a pair, but it was he who did the hard fighting, faced the world with confidence. I bonded with Jasmine far more than Ginger. Allen’s film ends with Jasmine in deep distress on a park bench, no one to turn to help her.
I fled that theater, didn’t wait for the credits to roll.
But I don’t deny the film speaks home to us today and is brilliantly acted, well taken.