"Blue Jasmine" Another Black Mark

AP Images/Andrew Medichini

The new movie, Blue Jasmine, has been so wildly embraced by critics, while being so replete with its writer-director’s worst tendencies, that it provides the best example in years of Woody Allen’s status as America’s most overrated filmmaker. At the center of the picture is the calculatedly neurotic performance by the otherwise fine actress Cate Blanchett, who exhausts our patience within five minutes and, for having done so, has emerged as a front runner for the Academy Award; her Jasmine is the stranger next to you on a plane who never shuts up about herself and commandeers your attention without a clue or care that you might have a life too, since she decided long before she laid eyes on you that you exist for no reason but to enable her or advance her interests or, if need be, save her. She’s certainly not somebody in whose company you want to spend an hour and a half, even with a movie screen between you.  

Admirers of Blue Jasmine have characterized the movie as the story of a woman trying to figure out who she is, but that’s preposterous. Nothing Jasmine does or says suggests she has the slightest interest in who she is or that the question has crossed her mind or Allen’s mind. Aspiring to be the wife of one rich man or another, she feels wounded enough when someone calls her a phony for her self-pity to kick into overdrive but not enough to examine the likelihood, growing with every passing moment, that the reason people keep saying it is because it’s true. She turns a blind eye when her wheeler-dealer husband played by Alec Baldwin criminally defrauds everybody in his orbit (including Jasmine’s sister), and though everybody around Jasmine can see he’s a lout who thinks extracurricular girlfriends are to be cashed in like the investment funds of the unsuspecting, she lives in denial until she no longer can. When she exposes her husband to the FBI, it’s not an act of conscience taken because innocent people are being hurt but an act of revenge because she’s been hurt. No one in Blue Jasmine is empathetic—Jasmine’s sister comes closest until we learn she’s as opportunistic in her love life as everyone else—but that isn’t the problem: It’s possible, as in the case of the great Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel, to make great art about characters who are disagreeable without exception. It’s another thing to make art about characters we don’t like who never feel authentic and who are transparently the intellectual props of someone who doesn’t care enough about people to try knowing them.

Blue Jasmine is the latest evidence of how superficial Allen’s concerns always have been and the extent to which his humor and New York sensibility have lured critics and filmgoers into overlooking his shallowness. His movies are shot through with a contempt—for women in particular, though in fairness he’s not much nicer about men or, for that matter, himself—that caught up with the pictures years or decades ago but is all the more obvious now that his wit is manifestly sapped. Let’s not undercut our argument by overstating it: Allen has made good films, and reviewers certainly have panned films of his that are too conspicuously bankrupt not to be panned. The critical hegemony, however, remains poised to consume whole anything that gives them an excuse to, as in the case of Midnight in Paris, an enormously appealing but slight film with a conceit that verges on gimmickry but constitutes for Allen profundity. Some of his more resonant and accomplished pictures are most distinguished by what’s rare about them, which is an affection generally unfelt in Allen’s work—for the city that Allen loves in the case of Manhattan, for his own medium in the case of The Purple Rose of Cairo. But there’s little affection for humanity in any of them, and when there is, it feels forced. Over time, critics have been desperate to love the philosophically confused Crimes and Misdemeanors, the one-trick Zelig, the London movies Match Point, and to a lesser extent, Scoop, otherwise known as Woody’s I-Really-Only-Want-to-Sleep-With-Scarlett-Johansson-But-I’ve-Sort-Of-Begun-To-Realize-Just-How-Creepy-That-Is Period.

Allen and his admirers alike are trapped by a sense of futility about his work that dares not speak its name. The lion is too deep in winter for anybody to rationally hope his artistry will change; there’s little reason to believe that, like Buñuel (who appeared as a character in Midnight in Paris), Allen will get better, wiser or bolder as he grows older yet. His work ethic is unflagging and admirable on the face of it—he knocks out a movie every year—but it hasn’t served him well as the failed movies not only mount but call into question the estimable ones: Manhattan is more of a masterpiece when you haven’t seen any of the others. Now the productivity resembles either pathological workaholism or a narcissism that insists we pay attention the way Jasmine insists we pay attention, in a movie that never surprises us, that never veers from its path toward the desolate park bench we know from the outset is waiting, that never defies our expectations because none of the characters possesses the contradictions that elevate great characters above mere types. On that bench, like in the plane seat an hour and a half before when her fellow passenger had nowhere earthbound to flee, Jasmine sits talking to herself (not a plot spoiler) as Allen talks to himself, deigning to allow us the privilege of listening.       

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Comments

I am surprised that this article was published, not because the author can't accept the films merits, but because of the bitter, amateurish tone and unpersuasive positions that come off as insincerely contrarian.

I am surprised that this article was published, not because the author can't accept the film's merits, but because of the bitter, amateurish tone and unpersuasive positions that come off as insincerely contrarian.

Steve,
It sounds like this movie really got under your skin! It is not an easy movie to watch and Jasmine is not a likable character but this does not mean that it is not a good movie. The parallels with "Streetcar" are so many and so unmistakable that that it makes me wonder more about Jasmine. Like Blanche, J. has also lived by the "kindness of strangers" although in this case she was using and manipulating them. Yet they both came to the same end.
I find that I keep thinking about this movie and I disagree that Woody Allen does not like people. Also, he is not required to like them as long as he can create them the way he can.
I will stop now.

Thankfully, you (whoever you are) are there to resolve our warped perceptions on art.

You really need to deal with your own personal issues, that quite transparently subconsciously fuel your vulgar distaste.
"who never feel authentic" - and please, for your own sake, get out a little more. And take up some courses (or clues from professional critics) on how to intelligently, compellingly, and educationally critique a film.

OK - you didn't much like the film. But you seem even more upset by the supposed widespread critical adulation of Allen's films. First of all, you're wrong (Scoop was not a very well reviewed movie; almost all the positive reviews for Midnight in Paris conceded that it was hardly a profound movie, etc.) Second of all, who cares?

Haven't seen it and do not intend to, not because it is a bad (or maybe good) example of the genre, but because I got my fill of such "existential" plays reading them in high school and watching them for class credit in college (the most boring college film? a tie between Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal" and Fellini's "8 1/2"). At my age (which you can guess from the references above) I want to see or read something NEW, or something old that I never got around to. I just recently read "Catch-22" for example. Besides, I liked Woody Allen's comedies, like "The Sleeper" and "Everything You Always Wanted to Know...," especially the fettucini digestion and the sperm pep talk scenes. Oh, and the giant breast chasing someone across the grass and drowning him in milk. I would rather remember him for making us LAUGH about absurdity, rather than saying over and over, "it's absurd, it's absurd, ..." with no humor to relieve the depression.

The "chess with Death" scene by Bergman was brilliantly parodied by Stephen Colbert in the introduction to his occasional "Cheating Death" mock drug commercials. I wonder how many of his fans' generation know the origin of that scene? Or know why his fictional drug company is named Prescott (hint: W's grandfather and HW's father, Senator Prescott Bush, whose bank was seized in 1942 for trading with the enemy)?

I like his older movies but now he need a break through. Belgravia Villas

The author needs to print out this review and fax it to his therapist before the next session....

what are people attacking this critic? he is SPOT ON about the superficial mediocrity of 'jasmine' and much of allen's work. i'm a huge woody fan, but i'm i don't fetishize him to the point that he can do no wrong. of his 40 plus features, 5 to 10 are in the realm of classic, another 10 are good to very good and the rest are spotty, weak or not good. and people go on about 'annie hall', but never talk about 'husband and wives' or 'the sweet and lowdown' and, call me crazy, but 'midnight in paris' is woody's MOST overrated film, hands down. leave the critic alone because he nails it.

correction: 'why' are people attacking...' and 'superficality and mediocrity of...' and 5 are classic, 5 great, 5 good, 10 decent and 10 just okay to bad.

another well argued negative review of 'jasmine':

http://m.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/08/-i-blue-jasmine-i-an-interesting-disappointment/278295/

correction: 'why' are people attacking...' and 'superficality and mediocrity of...' and 5 are classic, 5 great, 5 good, 10 decent and 10 just okay to bad.

another well argued negative review of 'jasmine':

http://m.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/08/-i-blue-jasmine-i-an-interesting-disappointment/278295/

Nothing says "take my criticism of superficiality in another writer's work seriously" more than the use of clichés (e.g. "lion in winter").

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