Blue Jasmine is the 2008 financial crash re-imagined as A Streetcar Named Desire.
Cate Blanchett, whose performance was briefly overshadowed during the winter by the rape accusations against director Woody Allen, plays Jeanette “Jasmine” Francis. Jasmine, a former member of the 1%, has crashed hard into the 99% after her husband, a sleazy Wolf of Wall Street type scam artist played by Alex Baldwin, commits suicide in prison. Now dependent on her adopted sister Ginger, played by the excellent Sally Hawkins, Jasmine has moved from New York to San Francisco to “start a new life.”
Ginger, to make an understatement, is a saint. Jasmine is a snob who looks down on Ginger’s working-class boyfriend “Chilli,” a Guido stereotype played to perfection by Bobby Cannavale. She had no job skills. She’s an alcoholic and a prescription drug addict who’s progressively losing her mind. She babbles on in front of Ginger’s two sons with the kind of incoherent rage no child that age should be subjected to. Worst of all, Jasmine’s late husband Hal scammed Ginger’s ex-husband Augie, Andrew Dice Clay, out of 200,000 dollars in lottery winnings. Ginger is a stand in for the American working-class, endlessly patient with a ruling class that abuses it over and over again. However many times Augie and Chilli, Blue Jasmine’s two-headed Stanley Kowalski, try to hammer it into her head that her glamorous adopted sister is a hateful fraud, Ginger is still willing to forgive her and take her back.
At least Blue Jasmine can be read this way, as a political allegory about the forgiveness and deferential attitude the gullible American 99% constantly displays towards the American 1%. It’s too bad so many of Woody Allen’s haters decided to boycott Blue Jasmine over the rape accusations Dylan Farrow made last January. Blue Jasmine has plenty of material with which to accuse Allen of misogyny masquerading as feminism. Is Woody Allen really interested in payback against Bernie Madoff, or is the film about something much more personal? Is it really about payback against Mia Farrow?
For Tennessee Williams, a gay man, A Streetcar Named Desire was about compassion for a fading, vulnerable middle-aged woman. But Woody Allen isn’t a gay man who identifies with Jasmine Francis the way Williams identified with Blanche DuBois. Even if Allen isn’t a pedophile who raped his ex-wife’s daughter, he’s still a man who likes very young women, and the 43-year-old Cate Blanchett is a good 2 decades past his expiration date. Is Jasmine the victim of the 1%? Or does she represent the predations of the 1%? If she does, what does it say about Allen that he chooses to personify Wall Street as a fading beauty down on her luck?
Compare Cate Blanchett, for example, to Julie Delpy, another formerly hot Generation X movie goddess now in her 40s. In Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, and in the unjustly neglected film The Countess, Delpy plays a woman obsessed with her fading looks, with her loss of power over men. In Before Midnight, her character Celine directly confronts her husband Jesse, played by Ethan Hawke. If she saw me on that train and I looked like I do today, would you still stop to talk to me? Would you still ask me to get off the train? That Jesse hesitates precipitates a quarrel that threatens to break up their marriage. Celine knows she’s not as attractive as she was in her 20s, and, while not quite as dependent on men as Blanche DuBois or Jasmine, she’s still rankled by the idea that she’s a frumpy soccer mom instead of the goddess she was.
Even though Allen shoots the 5’10” Blanchett as a once beautiful woman now becoming increasingly hard and masculine as downward mobility and time tag team her to separate her from reality, she seems to have lost none of her power over the male sex. Ethan Hawke’s Jesse would almost certainly still stop to talk to her on that train to Vienna. Indeed, Jasmine’s problem is that she has too much male attention. Eddie, Chili’s friend, who’s a good half a foot shorter than she is, tries to get her phone number, even though it’s clear she’s a down on her luck, pill popping alcoholic. Jasmine gets a job as a receptionist in a dental office solely based on her looks. She’s so incompetent at her job that in the real world, she’d cost any dentist half his patients, but her boss keeps her on because, as we later see, he wants to fuck her. She goes to a party and meets a slick Washington diplomat named Dwight Westlake, played by Peter Sarsgaard, who’s so smitten with her that he proposes marriage before he bothers to figure out that she’s the ex-wife of the film’s Bernie Madoff, a move that would have surely cost him his political career had Augie not exposed her before it was too late.
Yes, Cate Blanchett still looks pretty good in Blue Jasmine, but I doubt even the Cate Blanchett of Lord of the Rings could pull off what she does here. She’s a sorceress who has a magical ring that immediately gets men to think with the wrong head. While, admittedly, getting a man to think with the wrong head has never been particularly difficult, we have to understand, once again, that Blue Jasmine was written and directed by a borderline pedophile. So what is it that lets the 40-something Jasmine sweep men off their feet so easily? Perhaps Blue Jasmine is a political critique after all. Jasmine sweeps men off their feet because they, like the 99% as a whole, respect the 1%. Jasmine has class. She’s tall, blond, elegant. She carries Gucci, or was it Louis Vuitton bags. She used to live on Park Avenue, something that impresses the rubes out in the Guido ridden (in Woody Allen’s imagination anyway) hinterlands of San Francisco and Marin. She’s enough of a bull-shit artist to make people like Dwight buy into her own illusions about herself.
Is Blue Jasmine a feminist movie? Or is it a misogynist one? Perhaps it’s a a bit of both. Woody Allen, is clearly a snob like Jasmine. He’s as horrified about her having had to move to a shitty working-class neighborhood in San Francisco as she is. That he’s clueless about how expensive that crappy little apartment on Van Ness would be now is beside the point. For Woody Allen, Jasmine’s downward mobility exposes her to sexual harassment, and, in one horrifying scene, attempted rape by her employer. Jasmine is a woman who’s gotten over on her looks for so long she dropped out of college and forgot to pick up any real job skills. She barely knows how to use a computer. She’s been reduced to grabbing unwilling strangers and inflicting on them her tale of woe. As Blue Jasmine closes, we see her on a park bench, babbling to herself, well on her way to becoming a bag lady. This once beautiful woman has nothing more to look forward to but homelessness, mental illness, and probably sexual assault much worse than the one depicted in the film.
Jasmine is the ultimate victim of the 1%, someone who’s been so brainwashed by the ideology of the ruling class she won’t survive.