Woody Allen returns to film with a poignant piece of thought provoking cinema.
When people who have a passion for cinema, such as myself, hear that an auteur who has made films for decades is returning with another motion picture one of two thoughts will occur to them. Either “that should be interesting to see what they’ve got in store for us” or “what does that old bastard want? Doesn’t he realises the eighties ended?”. Hence when new films by people such as Tim Burton and Martin Scorsese are released the audience is always split in to schisms of those appreciating a new cinematic approach or complaining that the glory days are over, and both sides are understandable. But when a film maker truly stands the test of time and continues to create new and exciting pieces at a consistent rate, now that’s special.
Just recently Wood Allen made the latest installment to his catalogue of cinema with his new romantic comedy Blue Jasmine, starring Cate Blanchett. It’s a film that has roots in older Allen work but doesn’t necessarily linger in the past. I think the film completely disproves the cyniques who say that Allen has lost his touch and is playing on past successes, because this isn’t the case at all. What he has done with Blue Jasmine is shown us that he has deserved all of the praise in the past and then supplied us with a new reason to praise him. It is a fantastic but delicate piece of film that is not for everyone, but for me it was very good. I usually don’t think much of comedies because they’re not made to be good films in todays world; modern comedies are just made to make people laugh in any way possible whilst taking their money in the process. Woody Allen is still fighting against that wave of idiocy and is writing intelligent comedic pieces that work perfectly as films.
To summarise for those who haven’t seen the film, and speaking spoilerese as a means of not spoiling it for anyone, the story centres around Jasmine, a woman moving in with her adopted and considerably poorer sister after having lived a life of luxury. We are made aware that there were complications with her ex husband and his activities both in and outside of work and so she has basically found herself at the bottom of the pile facing up to others for help. From there the film follows Jasmine as we look back in to her troubled past whilst moving to the present to see her trying to place her life back together piece by piece. As simple as that sounds the way the film explores certain topics, such as the class system, what love really means, and various mental health issues really adds layers to it and forms a complex film in the usual Woody Allen style of being wrapped in this brutal sense of humour that makes you question if you should really be laughing.
And it’s rather upsetting to think about how small the film could have been. It was originally only released in about six theatres in America before being treated to a wider release, so really we are lucky. We are lucky that people pushed this film and supported it because it could very well have ended up as a film that never happened. Sony Classics have my upmost respect for supporting the film and distributing it so that wider audiences can see it, one of the most intelligent decisions to have been made in recent years regarding cinema. And I have masses of respect for Cate Blanchett who really pushed the film forwards and shows everyone that films with a female lead are wanted and are successful. For a better summary I advise watching her Oscar speech which, although I can’t stand the awards, was exceptional.
In my usual style I have decided to not only comment on the film but to analyse it because it was a special film for me, a comedy that was worth thinking about, much like with Spike Jonze’s Her recently which equally I liked rather a lot. So I suppose you could say I’ve dissected the film because there is a lot to pick up on and it was such an exciting experience being able to write about it. It is without further ado I present to you my thoughts and analysis of Blue Jasmine by Woody Allen.
The character of Jasmine initially feels like a character from Sex & The City – the first part of the film sees Jasmine as something of a consumerist arsehole; she is constantly talking of clothing she has or how much it is worth and it is rather annoying to listen to her bathing in her own wealth. One of the examples that stands out is when Jasmine is talking to her adopted sister about how little money she has, but then proceeds to moan about the poor standards of her first class flight that day and how her customised designer luggage looks used, and by implication, outdated. It is cringe worthy to observe such a pompous and rude person interact with others who have a greater grasp on reality. The obsession with money and success and what her partner does made her seem like one of the consumerist caricatures from Sex & The City but with at least a little bit of human hidden somewhere.
Continuing the previous point, did Allen deliberately write such a detestable character? – I know it has been a Woody Allen trait in the past to have a main character that is a little bit irritating and who makes you cringe, but this is a whole new level. With Blue Jasmine you have a main character who is utterly repugnant and who actually makes the first part of the film quite uncomfortable because you can appreciate that her situation is difficult but you don’t necessarily feel sympathy towards her. Now I don’t know if this is because Allen wanted to make a contrast to how Jasmine is towards the end of the film of whether he is using the class system as a way of mocking certain types of people but either way Allen did it on purpose. He wrote Jasmine to be a complex character who is by no means one dimensional and so we feel more than one emotion towards them throughout the film.
Jasmine’s sister seems to be happy in her relationships because she doesn’t have a checklist when looking for a partner – I admit this sounds weird but what I mean is that Jasmine has a set idea of what her ideal partner is like, such as their income, success, attractiveness, but then her sister is unsure as to who she is looking for. This leads her to have more success because she falls for whoever it is that she connects with. It’s a rather interesting contrast because Allen makes it clear that Jasmine’s sister is looking for a man because of who he is whereas Jasmine is after a man because of what he is; she is fixated upon the idea of a man. For the sister her man is a partner, someone she can fool around with and fuck without worrying about his social standing, but for Jasmine he is part of her image. The man she is with is part of her identity and so she is very selective over who she is with. Granted Jasmine does not completely use the men in the film because she is clearly devastated when things goes wrong but there is still something ugly about how she approaches men and has a checklist, to the point of shouting at her sister that she will never have a better life because he chooses and deserves “losers”.
The scene with the dentist may have been a step too far – I’m aware this is vague for someone who has not seen the film but for those who have it’s quite obvious what I’m referring to. I know the scene is written for comical effect and it is a continuation of the downward spiral of events for Jasmine, but I would be lying if I said the scene didn’t leave me feeling uncomfortable. It’s difficult for me to find it funny because I’m aware that it’s an issue real people face in the workplace, but then part of me doesn’t feel like it’s meant to be funny. Part of me wants to believe that Allen was approaching quite a serious topic with at least the basic level of sincerity it deserves.
Class is often used as a topic for comedy but is mental health a suitable subject to derive comedy from? – Allen’s writing has always been at the dark end of the spectrum. I wouldn’t say it’s quite up there with the likes of In Bruges but he is clearly a definitive black comedy writer of our time. So when he is using Jasmine’s class as a subject for comedy it’s not really a problem because it is very observant writing. Some of the funniest moments of the film coincidentally are the times in which class is the subject of comedy, such as when Jasmine is forced to spend time with people she sees as beneath her and clearly they are enjoying life more than her. It is however when Jasmine’s mental health is called upon to produce jokes I start to get a little bit edgy. It’s a topic that has been used before for comedy, such as in Silver Linings Playbook in which we see Pat’s bipolar used seldom as a topic for comedy, but using a mental breakdown as a source of comedy seems a little bit too risky. I wouldn’t say Allen is necessarily being as juvenile as that, it’s not as if he’s a child who just killed a fly and then proceeds to poke it with a stick and laugh at it, but it’s not to say he doesn’t make some scenes featuring Jasmine’s mental health as a main topic comedic. And again this would link back to my previous point about whether we are meant to like Jasmine or not, and so that really dictates how funny you find it.
The use of language, particularly adjectives to describe men, is very intriguing – there are a lot of words thrown around in Blue Jasmine that are used to describe men. Obviously love and partners are a big element in the film and so there’s a high usage of the word “useless” by Jasmine when referring to the partner of her sister. It’s interesting that this is even considered by Jasmine because not only is she just comparing him to her ex husband but also it seems like she is over compensating. Jasmine is constantly trying to look for ways to be above others and shared this sense of entitlement above everyone else. So even now when she is at the bottom of the scrap heap and taking on a job she considers beneath her she still had the audacity to call those with a steady career “useless” in one last attempt to cling on to the identity she once had and held in high esteem. It’s also a slight attempt to maintain this position she feels she has over her sister when clearly she is jealous that her sister is happier than she is.
The ending is not necessarily happy but that makes it more realistic – even going back to films like Annie Hall it’s clear Allen’s brutality is in his endings. The harsh abruptness just reflects the cold reality we live in where not all relationships are successful but also where people have to face the fate they have constructed for themselves through their own actions. It’s not because I’m a cynic; I actually admire Allen for being a writer who has a grasp on reality. I find that too many American writers use the happy ending when it’s not justified. If you look at British comedy as opposed to American comedy you’ll see that British people accept failure more. Our favourite characters are the ones who don’t succeed, that aren’t happy, that life consistently craps on. In contrast, American comedies like Friends are written so that the idiotic characters get in to all sorts of mishaps but then always land on their feet, they always reach their happy ending regardless of how much of an arsehole they have been in the process. That is exactly what Allen is avoiding here, he shows how the lead character gets in to all sorts of trouble but then gets served a hard dose of reality, and that is why it feels somewhat British. It’s like Richard Ayoade’s Submarine in which we see Oliver Tate’s persistent romantic struggles that show what a disturbed individual he can be and it does inevitably lead to his own unhappiness. He isn’t happy by the end of it, he doesn’t feel content with his home life, he doesn’t necessarily get the girl but we accept that because it is the road he has paved for himself. That’s what Blue Jasmine feels like, it’s harsh but realistic, and I still believe it’s admirable of Allen to move away from the glossy Hollywood ending that frequently plagues our screens.
–> following from previous points, the ending makes the film feel like it’s a more realistic conclusion to Sex & The City – I talked briefly earlier about how the film mirrors the annoying nature of Sex & The City, so now while I’m on the topic of Blue Jasmine’s conclusion I feel I should mention that I think the ending of Blue Jasmine is the ending Sex & The City would have if it was set in the real world. If the characters in it were real women who genuinely behaved the way they do then they would find an almighty amount of shit raining down upon their heads, much like Jasmine experiences to an extent. It’s an ending that shows what can happen to people if they are selfish and constantly try to assert their position above everybody else. There is no way the characters in S&C would be as happy as they are because things wouldn’t always work in their favour. Blue Jasmine delivers the clear message that actions have consequences, something the characters in S&C never experience and never will. If the writers and the actors managed to grow up and act as old as we all know they are (sorry SJP but we know how old you are, quit the facial work) then they would present a realistic story with less juvenile characters, in a world that is not childish.
The idea of one song being be able to trigger an all manner of emotions is explored quite nicely – I can’t explain it in comprehensible English or even a coherent manner but I really like it when a song is part of a character. I think it really develops a character and adds depth to see how one song is so deeply rooted and sparks off an emotional cocktail that ultimately brings them to their knees. This is what you find with Blue Jasmine when Jasmine hears Blue Moon by Conal Fowkes. This was played at her wedding and so used to be a happy song for her. However after everything that happens with said man the song becomes one that makes her saddened but also creates another reaction: a smile. Now it’s an interesting smile to see, and Blanchett acts superbly to create this, because it’s one that has different reasons behind it. Part of the smile feels like Jasmine is thinking back to how things used to be and the tears that accompany the smile are formed because she realises how her happy relationship crumbled beneath her. But then another side to the smile could be to create the illusion that Jasmine is fine. It’s like when a parent receives bad news but doesn’t want to be seen crying by their children, so they adopt a hollow smile. In this case it is as if Jasmine doesn’t want to let the song get the better of her and so she smiles it off until the smile doesn’t work anymore.
It’s commendable that a screenplay writer uses the ‘f’ word in a film with a 12 certificate – this is a topic I feel quite strongly about because I am heavily interested in screenplay writing and I am fascinated with different writing styles. I think it’s a brave choice when a writer puts the word “fuck” in to a film that is rated 12, but it has to be done appropriately. It’s a word that obviously carries a lot of meanings behind it and is usually used in cases of extreme emotional turmoil and so it is not a word that can be used lightly. It’s all well and good having Tarantino and Terence Winter rattle off as many fucks as they can in an 18 certificate, in those instances it’s boring because it’s what you expect. Obviously with a 12 certificate you’re restricted so you really have to make it count. You could be a monumental cretin like James Cameron and just blow it like he did with Titanic or you could do what Steve Coogan did with Philomena recently where it is utilised to create comic effect and convey various feelings. I believe Allen has done the right thing here because the use of the word added shock value and tension to a rather heated argument and wasn’t just wasted liked a adolescent loud mouth in the playground at school. It was a brave choice, much like with other films before it, and it shows other writers how to do it properly. James Cameron please step out of your swimming pool of money and get some tips on effective screenplay writing, you child.
So there you have it, a fantastically written film that is truly though provoking and a gentle return for Woody Allen. In recent years he has had a bit of a rough time with this resume. Films like Midnight in Paris were good but then others like Match Point completely missed the mark in my opinion so it is nice to see him back on top form. I know he is a controversial figure due to allegations and rumours recently but I’m chosing to ignore those. I don’t condone any behaviour he has been accused of but I do care about his films so I shall focus on those for the time being. I heavily recommend watching this film to anybody of any age because I think it will give different things to different audiences depending on their age.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post, I am grateful for any views this blog gets so thank you for taking a few minutes out of your day to read it. If you have any comments or thoughts on the film then please feel free to leave a comment and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.
Until the next time I shall leave you with a quote from Blue Jasmine that I rather liked:
“There’s only so many traumas that a person can withstand until they take to the streets and start screaming”