Allen has made his annual return to directing and writing with this year’s film, Blue Jasmine. With a solid box office return and widespread critical acclaim, it would seem that this was a successful one indeed. However, perhaps you shouldn’t go reaching for the popcorn just yet, as this may prove one of the more decisive entries in the Woody Allen library.
Our story focuses on former New York socialite Jasmine, played by Cate Blanchett. Her husband Hal, played by Alex Baldwin, was arrested and sent to prison for being involved in a multitude of financial based fraud. As a result, Jasmine, bereft of skills or any relevant abilities to make her a productive member of society, must leave her life behind to move across the country to live with her sister Ginger – played by Sally Hawkins – and her live in fiancé Chili, played by Bobby Cannavale.
At first glance, this film seems as though it will take a very “Hollywood” turn as Jasmine must endure hardships and realize that there is more to life than money. Before long, though, we see the cynical side of this film take ominous shape as the audience embarks on an adventure that is anything but formulaic. Per the usual from Woody Allen, the acting is superb with excellent casting all around. Each of the players expertly becomes each of their respective characters, and the audience becomes interested in their struggles and plights. The only missed cue on their part is that none of them are truly likeable characters. Before long, it seems that the entire purpose of this film is to take shots at the hypocritical, seedy underbelly of wealthy society while simultaneously attempting to make the audience give sympathy for Jasmine’s plight by painting the arduous and unattractive life that staying with her sister would inevitably provide.
The story is completely unsatisfying. The largest issue is a complete seamless transition between flashbacks and present time, which serve to be more jarring than anything. It seems that the director is attempting to make us see things through the eyes of the mentally troubled and struggling Jasmine as she cannot come to grips with reality herself, but in doing so makes it initially difficult to follow. We get to see the downward spiral of Jasmine, but unlike other tragedies whereas the world or some instrument is against her, we see that she is the author of her own demise; thereby eliminating sympathy for her plight in what can only be called her tragic tale.
What’s more is that at the film’s conclusion, nothing was gained, lost or even really changed with any of the lead characters. Delving into details would spoil the outcome of the film; however, suffice it to say that the complete absence of a legitimate conclusion leaves a lingering sense of hopelessness. In other tragedies, the audience is still given a cathartic conclusion; something that says that the protagonist went on a journey that came to an ending with a big loss or big gain. With Blue Jasmine, the film doesn’t conclude so much as it just abruptly stops, depriving the audience of any emotional satisfaction of the film.
Writing in a Woody Allen movie is usually witty and comical, even during moments of drama or other intense scenes. There wasn’t a true comedy in Blue Jasmine; all of the digs and snipes seemed to come from a place of legitimate disdain as each line seemed to come off more mean-spirited than an observant and comical observation. If Annie Hall’s comedy was inspired by Groucho Marx, than Blue Jasmine’s comedy was inspired by the ill-fated performance of Michael Richards.
In summation, one would be hard pressed to call this a truly “bad” film. The writing is intelligent and at times legitimately witty. The characters are intricate and very real with what seems to be practical, real reactions to their respective situations. However, that doesn’t make it a good movie, either. The jokes seem to be a thinly veiled excuse to expose the dark side of wealth. The story is jarring and non-linear with none of the major characters having a truly beneficial arc from the outset of the film to its ending. What’s more, the ending leaves the audience feeling empty as it merely stops instead of coming to any kind of true conclusion. And with nothing gained or lost it begs the question; what was the point?
Two stars out of four.
Watch the trailer here.