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Sunday, August 25, 2013

"Blue Jasmine" Blues

It isn't uncommon to be sad at the end of a Woody Allen film. Not common, really, but certainly not unheard of, in that Purple Rose of Cairo has one of the most depressing endings in film, with Annie Hall and Manhattan coming up not far behind.

Blue Jasmine, though. Wow.

Maybe it's because of where we are right now, Greg and I. Admittedly, I've been a bit more raw, emotionally, these past few months than I have been at any time in the recent past, and for reasons that are both known and unknown to people we know. 2013 has been a hard year, and not just for G and me--everyone I know seems to be having a rough go of this year.

I assume that's to be expected in a year ending with the number 13. Not really into number superstition, but 2013 can, for most of my friends and relations both familial and casual, be described in one word: fraught.

Fraught. Just.... fraught. Not "fraught with....this" or anything. Just "fraught."

And that was the word I kept thinking about after leaving Lincoln Plaza Cinema, walking along Broadway, and descending down into the bowels of the NYC subway system. Fraught. I had earbuds in but didn't listen to anything. At one point near Fiorello's I started crying. By the time I reached the station at 59th St., I was contemplating skipping the train altogether and going for a long walk in the nighttime Central Park--talk about fraught! That would've been a fraught walk.

It isn't that Blue Jasmine is an especially good movie. It isn't. Woody Allen's great films are, I'm afraid, long behind him; the most we can hope from him now is to make a competent film. Which is precisely what Blue Jasmine is: competent. The script works as well as any other script; the design is exactly right for what it needs to accomplish. There are no stunning cinematographic moments, which is fine because it's a Woody Allen movie, and you don't really need a 10 minute tracking shot, or a pull-out to reveal a stunning sunset.

There's no real ambition behind Woody Allen movies anymore. Fine. He's an old man, and he's done plenty of stunning work, so he gets to coast into his grave without bringing us another Annie Hall or Love and Death.

Cate Blanchett, however, seems completely unaware of Woody's end-game malaise. Blanchett didn't just perform a role in a sub-par film; she devoured it. It is, probably, what made me so incredibly sad: she was performing Globe-caliber Hamlet in a community production of Kiss Me Kate. She was in an entirely different film from the rest of the cast, the script, or even the director.

Blanchett was phenomenal. And if she chewed some scenery, it was only because her character got a bit peckish.

Some generalities: G, as you know, has some mental issues. Most of the time he's fine, but when he's not fine it can be fairly... fraught. Frayed. Fraying. It is something both of us have to work on, not just him. It is a condition that requires the attention of both him and of me. Things have in the past month improved greatly. He's got regular medication, he's getting as much help as we can currently afford, and I'm now less dimwitted about his situation than I was. Meaning, when I think things are going okay, that's when I need to pay extra attention to him, rather than assuming things are, in fact, okay.


There. So. I went alone to see Blue Jasmine. It's something I really enjoy doing: going alone to movies. Some think it's rather pathetic or whatever, but I genuinely enjoy going alone to see movies from time to time because I can just go to the movie--I needn't whisper or be whispered to about the action, I needn't prep for dinner before or after, I needn't deal with any human being in any way. I can just go, and sit in the dark, and watch the film.

Lincoln Plaza is one of my favorite places to go solo for films. Originally Greg was planning on going with me, but circumstances prevented him from doing so. Boy, am I glad he didn't go.

So. Blue Jasmine is the story of what might've happened to Ruth Madoff, Bernie Madoff's wife, if she were genetically modified to be Blanche DuBois from Streetcar Named Desire. Jasmine is wholly unsympathetic, like Ruth, but unlike Ruth you--or I--feel kind of sorry for her anyway.

Ruth Madoff, sans limo
There was one line that Jasmine uttered that broke my heart and landed one of the best laughs: "I'm from New York," she says to a potential suitor. "Park Avenue."

She says this the way someone else would announce they were from Elmira, or Albany. The implication is that she's not just from New York--she's from money.

We are reminded continuously that her former husband (played by Alec Baldwin) bilked a lot of people out of a lot of money, and used that money to provide Jasmine with a lavish lifestyle--and in fact we're shown just how lavish a lifestyle it was: gifts of diamond bracelets while lounging in giant baths of bubbles, servants at her beck and call, trips to Europe, dinner parties on rooftops. By the time Jasmine loses everything and moves in with her poorer sister, it seems karma has paid a fair price to get Jasmine there.

Here's the thing: as with Blanche, we learn that Jasmine is mentally broken. She talks to herself. She drinks too much. She pops pills. Also like Blanche, she refuses to believe the circumstances of her life have permanently changed. "I am rich," she basically tells anyone who listens. "I am only here among you lowly poors for a short time."

Here's the other thing, and it's the thing that made me weepy while walking to the train: She doesn't have that moment at the end of Streetcar.

Unlike Blanche, Jasmine exits her sister's apartment, sits down on a bench, and begins talking to herself. She doesn't get to depend on the kindness of strangers because not even her family give two shits about her.

I'd never thought about it before, but while the ending of Streetcar is harrowing, at least Stella knows where Blanche ends up, and presumably will look after her. Who knows--maybe Blanche gets better. But Jasmine? Jasmine is left completely alone, with no options, and the film ends with her sitting alone on a bench, babbling to herself about the time she met her awful husband, telling the same story she's told many times.

It's just sad.

Mental illness is a tough thing to have, and a tough thing to watch someone else experience. So Woody Allen got me to feel that. Unfortunately, he didn't get me to feel much else.

First off, his idea of poor people.... it's as if he really, truly wants to express something with class, but he is so remote from the concept of poverty now that he only has a memory of what blue-collar workers should be. There is little difference between the blue-collars of Purple Rose--set in the Depression--and the blue collars of Blue Jasmine.

Secondly, fine, okay, Woody Allen made me feel awful for Ruth Madoff. His inability to really identify with the poor--even though I'm pretty sure he wants to believe he does--is getting worse and worse as his film career wears on. I hate to be that person, but I really do wish he'd make another Love and Death, and admit he said everything he needed to say in Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Finally: Greg. And Cate. Watching Cate Blanchett really, truly was a pleasure in the most depressing way possible. Having seen breakdowns firsthand--and perhaps teeing myself up for one quite soon--I can say she did it quite well. Again, she was in a different film from every other actor--they were in a light comedy, but she was in a balls-out Shakespearean production.

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