Blue Jasmine – Woody Allen’s Anti-love Letter

Warning: Spoilers!

Blue_Jasmine_posterI’d never been particularly drawn to Woody Allen movies. But then I saw To Rome with Love, followed soon after by Midnight in Paris. Both of them were delightful, a mixture of romantic travelogue, appealing characters, and a satisfying story arc. So last year, when he was spotted filming here in San Francisco, I hoped to see something in the same vein in America’s most romantic city.

Last week, I saw Blue Jasmine, and that story definitely wasn’t it.

If the first two movies were love-letters, this was the kind of snarky missive someone might write to an ex while still counting grievances. Woody Allen seemed to dislike all his characters, and San Francisco. It was a mystery to me why he even bothered, unless he’s a little in love with Cate Blanchett. You know the movie has problems when the only thing you can say is, “Cate Blanchett really acted well.”

In brief:

Jasmine, a beautiful self-centered housewife, has had a nervous breakdown when her marriage to wealthy Hal comes to a very sticky conclusion, with his imprisonment and suicide.  Penniless, adrift and mentally ill, she lands in San Francisco to stay with her sister Ginger, who has a nice little apartment in the Mission despite working mainly as a grocery bagger. (Perhaps she lucked into something rent-controlled.)  Jasmine ditched college to marry Hal, and has only her looks and poise going for her.  Since she’s not stable, she can’t make it work. She breaks down, lies, and talks to herself. (Lots of people do, these days, but a cellphone or earbuds are a useful prop.)

I spent the whole movie waiting for something to actually happen. Nothing does. It raises false hopes that there’ll actually be a story arc, but they all collapse.

Jasmine can’t get it together because she’s having a nervous breakdown, and no one addresses that. (Presumably she lost her health coverage together with her previous wealthy-chick life.) Ginger, encouraged by Jasmine, has a brief fling but gets back together with the same guy she intended to marry when the movie started.  Nothing’s changed.

It might as well have ended with “It was all a dream.”

A disturbing thread of misogyny ran through the whole thing.  The choices it makes are unpleasant. Hal, the husband, is apparently modeled on Bernie Madoff; it would be interesting to explore the impact of the implosion of such a career on his immediate family.  But this movie focuses on Jasmine as a despicable character whose only redeeming feature is perhaps that she loves her step-son.

Ginger, the grocery-bagger sister, has an affair with an apparently successful man who seems to admire her. She’s punished by finding out that he’s married, and finds redemption by returning to the working-class fiance she started with.

Woody Allen definitely didn’t leave his heart in San Francisco either. Maybe his liver.  There were no glamor shots. Even the ones that were meant to be beautiful were just blah. Ginger’s neighborhood is rundown and grotty.  This is not the San Francisco visitors or even residents experience. This is a city with spectacular views, but you’ll probably find better ones on Youtube than in this movie. Instead, the movie celebrates the Hamptons. Charitably, you could say it’s interpreting it through Jasmine’s POV, where the Hamptons represent the luxurious and happy life she lost; and San Francisco the unpleasant present. Or you could blame Woody Allen.

This movie was the equivalent of those dreary literary efforts where Miserable Character Stays Miserable in a Dismal Setting.

Clearly, most people don’t agree with me. It has a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I guess seeing a beautiful woman fall apart has a certain allure.

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