Cate Blanchett as not Blanche DuBois with Bobby Cannavale as not Stanley Kowalski in Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen’s ironic riff on A Streetcar Named Desire.
I promised friends I wouldn’t say anything about Blue Jasmine until they’d had a chance to see it. Easy promise to keep since I don’t have much to say about it.
Really, Lance? You don’t have much to say about a movie? A Woody Allen movie? Go ahead, pull the other one.
Ok, a few things. Just notes, really, that I don’t think will spoil anything for my friends or any of you who haven’t seen it yet.
You know how people will say, “I’d pay to see [insert name of great actor here] read the phone book”? Blue Jasmine isn’t a Cate Blanchett reads the phone book movie, but the movie exemplifies the spirit behind the saying. You’re paying to see a great actress act. Blue Jasmine could be adapted for the stage as a one-woman show. The other characters are there to push the button that starts Jasmine on what amounts to another soliloquy.
This marks a big difference between Blue Jasmine and the play Allen unabashedly riffs on throughout, A Streetcar Named Desire. In Streetcar, Blanche DuBois’ arrival disrupts a community that exists apart from her and is important to itself despite her. It’s a very small, tawdry community and probably needs disrupting but the fact is its members don’t need Blanche to be themselves. In Blue Jasmine, the little community Jasmine invades, her sister’s family and small circle of friends, pretty much defines itself around Jasmine. It’s nearly impossible to imagine most of the other characters existing when Jasmine isn’t there. Jasmine faces no Stanley who insists she respond to the fact of another person with needs and interests and desires of his own to rival and even supersede hers. Bobby Cannavale’s Chili, Jasmine’s sister’s boyfriend, is in fact in danger of being erased by Jasmine and he feels it. His reaction is a very un-Stanley-esque cringing and whining.
But then Allen isn’t doing a rewrite of Tennesee Williams. Blue Jasmine isn’t to Streetcar what Clueless is to Jane Austen’s Emma or Kurosawa’s Ran to King Lear. Allen uses the play to provide structure and the semblance of a plot. It’s also a source of ironic humor. It’s funny to compare scenes. Oh, that’s like when… I see, this is that scene… Ah, he’s supposed to be…
The inherent compare and contrast also provides a lesson in the difference between the tragic and the merely pathetic. Like any tragedy, Streetcar could have been a comedy. Blue Jasmine is a comedy with the jokes removed.
I could probably do a post making the case that Cheers during the Diane years was a through the looking glass comedy version of Streetcar.
You can feel where the jokes would have been in Jasmine and might find yourself, like I did, chuckling in those spots as if the jokes were actually there.
The real significant influence on Blue Jasmine isn’t Williams, it’s John Cassavetes. Especially Faces and A Woman Under the Influence. Allen has been a longtime student of Cassavetes. He even made what’s essentially a John Cassavetes’ film, Another Woman, which starred Cassavetes’ wife and leading lady, Gena Rowlands. There’s a much more improvisational feel to the dialog in Blue Jasmine than in most other Allen films.
As she enters her forties, Cate Blanchett is beginning to look like Gena Rowlands.
Or maybe that’s a deliberate effect of lighting, makeup, and camera angles.
I can imagine Ben Gazzara as Chili. Peter Falk in the parts played by Max Casella, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Andrew Dice Clay. Cassavetes as the Alec Baldwin character. Seymour Cassel could have had either of the parts played by Louis C.K and Peter Sarsgaard.
Sarsgaard looks exactly like Kelsey Grammar did on Cheers.
Alec Baldwin should only work with Woody Allen and Tina Fey. He was the best thing in To Rome With Love. It’s hard to remember, and possibly not worth remembering, that he was also the best part of Allen’s Alice. He’s not the best part of Blue Jasmine, but he is the best part that isn’t Cate Blanchett.
The only thoroughly likeable character in Blue Jasmine is actually completely despicable. I don’t know if that’s thematic or Allen presenting us with one of life’s little ironies. All the way through I found myself identifying with the worst in every character. Needless to say, I left the theater feeling less than happy with myself or the world. This might have been me, but I think it was more that all these characters were most vital when they were displaying their weaknesses and flaws. It wasn’t a matter of their vices being more attractive than their virtues. It’s that their virtues were watery and ineffective. Blue Jasmine is about a collection of people who just can’t help themselves. Which, when you get down to it, is what makes them pathetic and not tragic.
Welcome to everybody coming over from Movie City News. If you like what goes on around and you'd like to help keep things chuggling merrily along in Mannionville and you can swing it, please consider making a donation. It'd be much appreciated.