I was very disappointed by “Blue Jasmine.” But, when I turned to the reviews and comments, I found (much to my surprise) that most of them were quite positive. This flung me into an even deeper pit of despair. How could it be, I thought, that so many perceptive writers and film critics had not been able to see the very obvious faults of the film, the direction, the script and the cinematography? It was either that, or they were reluctant to criticize the work of director who had a good reputation and a respected name.
Let me begin with the script. The fact that the story is based on (or stolen) from Eugene O’Neill’s brilliant “A Street Car Named Desire” is distressing enough. The parallels are obvious and embarrassing. One longs for the originality of “Annie Hall.” But to make matters worse, the dialogue in “Blue Jasmine” is banal, flat and maddeningly repetitive. Instead of presenting fully-formed characters, the script presents cartoons or caricatures — one-dimensional stick-figures that can be described by brief tag-lines. There is the working-class, illiterate with a good heart, the rich-but-corrupt, husband of Jasmine and finally, Jasmine herself, far fallen from her upscale lifestyle that had featured Hermes bags and Dior gowns.
How many times do we have to hear that Jasmine wants to learn some skill so she can get a good job? How many times do we have to hear that Ginger’s uneducated boy-friend is a “loser?” How many times do we have to hear that Jasmine’s rich, crook of an ex-husband was an insatiate womanizer? For some reason, the script-writer forgets that he has already provided us the same bit of information and keeps clothing it in different words and presenting it again and again.
One waited in vain for the famous Woody wit to come in and save the day. But it never arrived. Instead all we got were screaming matches every ten minutes or right when Hollywood script-writing protocols decree that a “whammy” is needed to wake up the audience.
Poor Cate Blanchette. The cameraman has done her grievous disservice. Photographed mercilessly in poor light, with terrible make-up, Cate lurches from scene to scene mumbling the same words over and over again. (“I want to go to college. I want to learn computer skills. I want to become an interior designer.”) Her dark roots showing and all the other signs of aging horrifically emphasized, she is crucified by the camera against cluttered back-drops, in meaningless long shots and badly-lit close-ups. I have seen her in other films in which her fresh, unusual beauty is riveting. In “Blue Jasmine” she has simply been done wrong!
The plot is simple enough: Jasmine is married to a wealthy New York businessman (played by a stone-faced Alec Baldwin) who is sent to prison for financial irregularities. (Shades of Bernie Madoff who literally “made off” with millions of dollars!) Jasmine arrives at her sister, Ginger’s apartment in San Francisco, broken-hearted and broke, only to see that Ginger is living a rather lower-class life. Ginger works as a cashier in a grocery store. Jasmine’s problems are further compounded by the fact that she has no skills, talents or training that could enable her to earn a living. But even this simple plot is presented in halting, staccato scenes that move with irritating slowness at times or jump forward at unrealistic speeds. The segment in which Jasmine meets Dwight is an example of how Woody Allen pushes the plot-line forward hurriedly. As soon as he meets Jasmine, Dwight does a quick data dump on his background and Jasmine is instantly smitten. Another such scene takes place towards the end of the film when Jasmine and Dwight are outside a jewelry store. Dwight is about to buy Jasmine an engagement ring. But he throws her over unceremoniously upon learning that she has lied about her background. All this happens with bewildering speed. A more perceptive director-cameraman team would have handled this part of the film in a slower, more nuanced, more sensitive way.
Now a few words about the music in “Blue Jasmine.” Woody Allen uses New Orleans Jazz to give the film a feeling of the Deep South – “Street Car Named Desire” country. But the whole effect is incongruous because the movie is set in San Francisco. Ultimately, the movie cannot make up its mind whether it wants to be an evocation of New Orleans, or San Francisco or New York. To put it bluntly, the sound-track is decidedly ineffectual and inappropriate. It merely manages to confuse the viewer. It makes no positive contributions. Nor does it help in creating atmosphere, mood, or ambience. To clarify, my objection is not that Jazz is used in a movie set in San Francisco, but that Jazz is used ineffectually. To see Jazz used well, I can direct viewers to Louis Malle’s first full-length feature film “Elevator to the Gallows” in which Miles Davis’ trumpet solos capture and express Jeanne Moreau’s melancholic mood with heart-breaking effectiveness.
Of all the films of Woody Allen that I have seen, this one was the most disappointing. I would rank “Annie Hall” as his most inspired effort. “Midnight in Paris” passed muster and was mildly entertaining, at least for those of us who know who know something about Gertrude Stein and Paris in the 20s. Woody Allen has given us many wonderful films. I hope he will give us more. But “Blue Jasmine” is a film that he should disown and we should forget.
I did find an intelligent analysis of “Blue Jasmine” on a website by Paul Joseph Gulino. (http://www.scriptmag.com/features/storytelling-strategies-blue-jasmine-blues)
I think it summarizes the problems of the film very succinctly. Gulino points out that Woody Allen’s script fails to establish a cause-and-effect pattern, and this fault undermines the credibility of the narrative. The story’s characters, says Gulino, “seem driven by impulses, and the story lurches around, with lines of action beginning and then petering out. The cause-and-effect sequencing is thus unsturdy even without the flashback interruptions.” Gulino further asserts that the screenplay resorts to the use of two coincidences, a tactic that further erodes the viewer’s faith in the story’s credibility. Gulino writes: “The story is helped along by two coincidences (which also tend to undermine cause-and-effect sequencing) — a chance sighting by Ginger of Jasmine’s husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) kissing a woman, and a chance encounter Jasmine with Ginger’s ex-husband Augie, which both unravels her hopes for a new marriage, and seems to lend the impression that San Francisco is a very small town.”
Relying on the use of coincidences in a screenplay is a very dangerous move. Coincidences are the weak points of a story and show-up the fact that the story is poorly-constructed. Of course, writers have to use them at times, but they must be used sparingly and with great skill and care to maintain the story’s plausibility. The story writer can ask the audience to “suspend disbelief “ but no one has the right to ask the audience to suspend sanity.
Because of the lack of plausibility, “Blue Jasmine” resembles a badly-formed magic act. We can plainly see the magician hiding the rabbit in the top-hat and then taking it out. The trick fails to impress or please. Allen’s screenplay, says Gulino is a: “classic ‘shaggy dog’ story — a story that meanders and ultimately comes to nothing — but what seems to lend it some ballast are the flashbacks to Jasmine’s former life. However, these are simply a dramatization of moments that could easily be delivered through traditional exposition. They amount to: a woman lived the high life in the Hamptons with her rich husband Hal, who she later learned was cheating serially on her, and who was also making money fraudulently. She turns him in, and finds herself ruined financially as he goes down.”
Gulino’s analysis is worth reading in its entirety.
To sum up, “Blue Jasmine” fails because it never sets out to be sincere or logical. Because the story lacks a plausible plot, Allen has to fall back on redundant verbiage and exaggerated acting to move the film forward. In the end, it fails to impress or please.