“Blue Jasmine” & others on the verge of breakdown
Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine is a stronger film than most reviewers seem to allow. Indeed, it bears comparison with Girl Most Likely, of which more in a moment. Blue Jasmine has been criticised as being too Woody and not Woody enough. I’d say it is nicely not Woody-self-obsessed, or Woody-neurotic, or Woody-Jewish: it doesn’t channel Woody. But it is a convincing and frightening account of a woman’s decline, and might have been made by plenty of good directors, or written by plenty of good novelists. It is a particularly American theme, I think.
We get to know Jasmine, or whatever her name is, rather well. We see that she was unlucky to be so good-looking: she traded being made strong by struggle (by becoming educated) for life with an exciting man who could pay her bills. He, of course, is a vulgar crook, but for as long as the money flows, Jasmine and her New York friends can ignore all that: his philanthropy and her good taste keep them socially afloat. When she finally leaves him, and a nervous breakdown and alcoholism looms, she goes to live with her San Francisco sister (they’re both adopted), whose blue-collar world is posited as offering a rackety redemption.
I should insert a spoiler alert when I say that one of the best bits of the film is Jasmine’s not seeing that the diplomat who might rescue her is taken in by her only because he is, as we begin to realise long before she does, a quite special sort of weakling. And there are other telling vignettes in this textured offering.
Goodness knows why anyone ever thought that this film was either romantic or comic: it is a portrait of a descent which is no less telling for being lightly-etched. It seems to be hoovering up insights from the Grey Gardens movies from 1975 and 2009, but also from Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. In the Wharton case I am thinking of her interest in the codes of respectability and the horse-trading women have to do as they parlay their youthful chances as lookers and pay tremendous emotional costs if they fancy themselves independent or overplay their hands.
It is this sort of consideration which makes Blue Jasmine so like Girl Most Likely. In both a talented woman is turned into an idle snob because she trades her looks for social position. In both, social decline turns into a breakdown. In both, vibrant American working class life is redemptive. In both, there is a Ivy League drop-out boy who chooses the music business for redemption. Of course, Girl Most Likely is a romantic comedy: it’s a feelgood movie to match Silver Linings Playbook. (All three involved heartbreak and medication, of course.) Both all these films have remarkable casts and delicious performances by all-comers.