Woody Allen has really grown on us lately. While he’s always been regarded as a significant filmmaker, it hasn’t been until more recent works like Midnight in Paris and Cassandra’s Dream that have made him a director whose films were not to be missed.
Blue Jasmine, his latest work, is an insightful, inventive movie, even as it relies on key elements of Tennessee William’s Pulitzer-prize winning play A Streetcar Named Desire. What the film opens the curtain on, 66 years after the play’s opening night, about women in the midst of trauma, is informative and beautifully communicated, especially through the cast, notably Cate Blanchett, who does a superb job of navigating through her character’s complex emotions.
The film is really a study of what we value, and what happens when that’s taken away. Like Blanche Dubois, Cate Blanchett (the similarity in the names is poetic casting, in a sense), has unravelled by the time she ends up at her sister’s place, broke and broken, but still with an unbending attitude towards her sister’s life. Ironically, much like Blanche Dubois, Jasmine has also negatively impacted on her sister’s finances, although it seems that it was done without malice. As she works to recover, and rebuild, she is faced with the same challenges that Blanche before her did, even if they come from different sources. One of the elements that remains the same, yet vastly different is Jasmine’s romantic interest, elegantly played with just the right amount of reserve and emotion by Peter Sarsgaard. Blanche has to hide her age from Mitch because she was no longer young, although the role was for a woman who was about 30. Thankfully, it seems ridiculous now to consider a 30 year old woman old, so instead of assigning another number to indicate that a woman was old, Allen did the brilliant thing and assigned a much-larger stigma, and that is of being part of stealing money from unsuspecting investors, through compliance and self-interest and indifference. Both women seek love–in fact, it’s love that motivates Jasmine to take significant action that triggers the story in the first place. Like Mitch, Sarsgaard’s character, Dwight, has also lost a spouse, and make plans to “recover” together since both characters, Blanche and Jasmine have lost a husband to suicide, to which they feel a degree of blame. What unravels the relationship between both sets of characters varies–but at the heart of all this the underlying reason is the same: the protagonist is not who she presents herself to be, and in both instances, the revelation came via her sister’s husband.
There are countless similarities in this homage, too many to mention, but what Woody Allen has done, as a true artist does, is make the story fresh and relevant to today, and our collective interest in how the 1% live, their relationships, their slips and their falls, in all their glory and frailties. It was also a really nice touch to add the classic references to the song, “Blue Moon,” which itself goes back to the 1930s. Like Blanche, who falls into a deep reminencence whenever the Varsouvania Polka plays, the song centers her and provides for a door framing the past and the present from which they can easily slip in and out of with painful ease. It’s really clever to have dipped a portion of the film’s title in the vehicle that has gotten Jasmine where she was, the song that was being played when she met her husband and began her journey, just as Blanche took the New Orleans streetcar named Desire to arrive at her sister’s place.
This is a demanding, Oscar-calibre role for an actress who really should be finally getting an Oscar. Cate is really brilliant in this role–you can see her thought processes as the character and feel her emotions as she’s feeling them. She always wows and this film is another example of her superb artistry. The rest of the cast slip into their roles with ease and familiarity, but never predictability. A talented director knows how to cast, and Woody Allen is a seriously talented one, not to mention a significant writer.
Blue Jasmine image from The Playlist
A Streetcar Named Desire image from DoctorMacro