Woody Allen Mashes Up Tennessee Williams and the Madoff Scandal

Cate Blanchett Portrays Woman on Verge of Nervous Breakdown

Blanchett Dubois: Cate Blanchett plays a woman brought low by her husband’s financial crimes and misdemeanors in Woody Allen’s ‘Blue Jasmine.’
Sony Pictures Classics
Blanchett Dubois: Cate Blanchett plays a woman brought low by her husband’s financial crimes and misdemeanors in Woody Allen’s ‘Blue Jasmine.’

By Ezra Glinter

Published July 25, 2013, issue of July 26, 2013.
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While the film alludes to the scandals of the 2008 recession, it also echoes the plot and characters of Tennessee Williams’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” and its 1951 film adaptation by Elia Kazan. This is not totally surprising: Allen has knowingly mimicked other films before, as with his homage to Federico Fellini’s “8 1/2” in the 1980 movie “Stardust Memories,” and he has referenced “Streetcar” in works like “Sleeper” (1973) and his 1975 play, “God.” In 2009, not long after the Madoff scandal broke, Blanchett also appeared in a production of “Streetcar” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In this case, the model plays to Allen’s strengths as a storyteller.

“Blue Jasmine” alternates between scenes from the past, set in New York and in the Hamptons, and the present, in San Francisco. But its focus is always on relationships between characters, rather than on the crimes that brought everyone to this sorry pass. There might be a “Bonfire of the Vanities” element in the spectacle of Hal, a “Master of the Universe” come undone, but it’s relatively minor.

Instead we get the mess of interlocking relationships that characterize Allen’s movies. There’s Hal and Jasmine; Jasmine and a beau named Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard); Jasmine and her various suitors (Dr. Flicker; a mechanic named Eddie, played by Max Casella); Ginger and her first husband, Augie (played by a surprisingly grounded Andrew Dice Clay); Ginger and her current boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale, the Marlon Brando character according to the “Streetcar” equation), and Ginger and a philandering sound engineer named Al (Louis C.K.). All this fills out the film with a succession of busy, talky scenes set against the bright San Francisco landscape.

The focus on romance, however, rather than on financial chicanery, makes the movie a little off-balance. Though Jasmine and Hal aren’t exactly lionized, the focus might have tilted more toward the little people. After getting ripped off by Hal, Augie’s marriage to Ginger falls apart and he is forced to seek work on an oil pipeline in Alaska. Yet his part of the story is given scant attention. No one would call this a “feel good” film, but maybe it should have felt a little worse.

Still, you have to admire Allen’s willful disregard for the pathetic fallacy in his portrayal of Jasmine. Unlike “Streetcar,” which takes place in the twilit French Quarter of New Orleans, Jasmine’s collapse happens in full daylight, amid parties and get-togethers, dates and conversations, and all the entanglements of an active life.

This is no quiet, solemn collapse — this is what happens when a person doesn’t fit into the world anymore and can no longer sham, dissemble or deceive. As Jasmine says in one of her unhinged speeches, “There’s only so many traumas a person can withstand before they run out to the street and start screaming.” It may be deserved, but it’s hardly an occasion to rejoice.

Ezra Glinter is the deputy arts editor of the Forward. Follow him on Twitter, @EzraG


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