- Blue Jasmine (2013) movie review: Woody Allen is mad – as in angry – and it shows throughout this funny, thoughtful, and beautifully acted social satire with echoes from Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.
- Blue Jasmine earned Cate Blanchett the Best Actress Academy Award. It was nominated for two other Oscars: Best Supporting Actress (Sally Hawkins) and Best Original Screenplay (Woody Allen).
Blue Jasmine movie review: A mordant, pissed-off Woody Allen wants audiences to understand he’s not one of Them
Years ago, the venerable and prolific writer-director and comedian Woody Allen was quick to remind people that he was not one of the Upper East Side elite he had often mocked in his stand-up work. As it happened, these characters also came to populate his movies following his slapstick-and-shtick period (What’s Up Tiger Lily?, Take the Money and Run, Bananas).
Even as Allen played one of these types, he made sure to note that his surrogate was not really one of them either; Annie Hall’s Alvy Singer, for one, rose from his apocryphal tenement under the Coney Island rollercoaster on the strength of his wit and moxie. His status wasn’t an imaginary birthright or the result of some slick manipulation of derivatives.
With Blue Jasmine – and the help of several perfectly pitched performances – Woody Allen once again reminds us that if there is an Us and a Them, he’s one of Us.
But is he really one of Us?
In a conversation with Dick Cavett on his 1970s talk show and in interviews elsewhere, Allen often implied – if not said outright – “I’m nothing like the characters I write and play; I’m a tough kid from Brooklyn.” These characters, nebbish intellectuals and the like, were fodder for material.
Over the years, however, this became less true. As Allen became one of Them, the elite’s concerns became his concerns and it showed in his films. Hollywood Ending, Melinda and Melinda, Scoop, the wonderful Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and what might be called his late masterpieces, Midnight in Paris and To Rome with Love, are concerned, however thoughtfully, with the foibles and philosophical considerations of the well-to-do.
Allen isn’t only making fun of them; he’s also commiserating with them.
But no matter how similar it may look to the titles listed above, Blue Jasmine is a stark departure when it comes to its thematic preoccupations. This latest effort marks a return to a Woody Allen standing apart from the elite, as the characters in his mid-career films always did.
Although Allen doesn’t act in Blue Jasmine, the movie reflects the notions of Alvy, Isaac (Manhattan), Mickey (Hannah and Her Sisters), and Gabe (Husbands and Wives), guys from Brooklyn (even if only in spirit) who were as smart as their Upper East Side contemporaries – but who were not one of them.
Like Allen himself, these characters mostly observed and bemoaned the foibles of the privileged classes – notwithstanding the reality that these men took part in the lifestyles of the elite and earned a living off its interest in them.
Biting satirical commentary
As it happens, Blue Jasmine works as both social satire and biting social commentary. And it bites hard.
The movie is constructed with Woody Allen’s standard vignettes and flashbacks; he even manages a voice-over opening by having Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) ramble effusively to a stranger for several minutes. It’s an old bit that Allen himself has used before, but it’s funny and gets us up to speed on who Jasmine is and why she’s landing broke and medicated on her sister Ginger’s (Sally Hawkins) San Francisco home.
The movie is framed in the context of the undoing of Jasmine’s life: She had a wealthy husband, Hal (To Rome with Love’s Alec Baldwin), but now Hal is gone and so is the money. With candid conversations among an eclectic palette of characters and with relatively few interstitial scenes, Allen lays out Jasmine’s unraveling in his familiar way.
And while Blue Jasmine is always funny, make no mistake: Woody Allen is pissed.
In fact, the movie even offers a few not-so-subtle thoughts on the middle class. Critiques of their shallow concerns play out in clever storylines featuring actor-comedian Louis C.K. and the great Peter Sarsgaard, whose characters aren’t left off the hook.
They are manipulative and conniving; they hold themselves harmless when in fact they’re taking advantage of both the rich and the poor. Or perhaps they are just plain insecure, protecting what they’ve acquired while not giving a damn about true love or passion, especially if it messes with their five-year plan.
A Streetcar Named Desire revisited
Structurally, Woody Allen is biting Tennessee Williams:
- Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine is Blanche from A Streetcar Named Desire (Vivien Leigh in Elia Kazan’s 1951 movie adaptation).
- Sally Hawkins’ Ginger is Stella (Kim Hunter).
- As Ginger’s boyfriend Chili, Bobby Cannavale is Stanley (Marlon Brando).
- As Ginger’s ex-husband Augie, Andrew Dice Clay is Mitch (Karl Malden).
Or maybe Peter Sarsgaard, as Jasmine’s suitor Dwight, is the one playing Mitch. No matter; they’re all here, give or take.
The cast is uniformly great, though I felt most empathetic towards Dice Clay’s Augie – and so does Allen. Augie had lost all his money (and his only shot at security) to a scheme that was at least tangentially related to his then sister-in-law Jasmine. About a dozen years ago, Allen sued longtime friend Jean Doumanian, whom he accused of having cheated him out of millions in profits from his films.
Woody Allen identifies with Augie.
Don’t mess with Woody Allen
In Manhattan, while at a posh party where everyone is beautiful and erudite, the conversation turns to an upcoming Nazi march.
One man chimes in about a caustic New York Times article regarding the event. Allen’s Isaac Davis, representing the real-life “kid from Brooklyn,” is the one who suggests a more direct course of action involving baseball bats.
That’s the Woody Allen – Allan Stewart Konigsberg – who wrote Blue Jasmine. And if I were you, I wouldn’t mess with him.
Blue Jasmine (2013)
Direction & Screenplay: Woody Allen.
Cast: Cate Blanchett. Sally Hawkins. Bobby Cannavale. Michael Stuhlbarg. Max Casella. Andrew Dice Clay. Peter Sarsgaard. Alec Baldwin. Alden Ehrenreich. Charlie Tahan. Tammy Blanchard. Louis C.K.
“Blue Jasmine (2013) Movie Review” endnotes
Awards & nominations
Besides her Oscar win, Cate Blanchett was the Best Actress choice of various groups during awards season. Among those were film critics in Los Angeles (tied with Adèle Exarchopoulos for Blue Is the Warmest Color), New York, and San Francisco. Other Blanchett wins included those at the Golden Globes (Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama) and the Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Sally Hawkins and Cate Blanchett Blue Jasmine movie images: Sony Pictures Classics.
“Blue Jasmine Movie (2013) Review: Biting Allen” last updated in January 2022.