BLUE JASMINE, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, and Oscar 2014 (Film Notes)

Blue Jasmine
Am I right that there were three Oscar nominations for BLUE JASMINE?  One – Cate Blanchett for Best Actress – is absolutely deserved, and my money is on her to win.  Not sure what to say about Sally Hawkins (Supporting Actress) – I thought she was fine but not really memorable, though I’m not sure what more she could have done.  The script didn’t do her any favors.

Which brings me to my central point: BLUE JASMINE for Best Screenplay?  Really??  The central theme of the movie at least sounds intriguing, and suggests that there will be something substantial at the core.  (And I’ll grant you BLUE JASMINE is an improvement on most of the stuff Woody Allen has done post 1980s – those I’ve seen, at least: after HUSBANDS AND WIVES, I pretty much had to be dragged under protest to his movies.)

But the actual screenplay is a confused mash-up – based in part on Bernie Madoff,  and in part on STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, and at the same time a bizarre road movie involving snazzy parts of New York (which of course, Allen knows well), and San Francisco (which he clearly doesn’t).

It’s the STREETCAR reinterpretation that interests me most, in part because Allen so badly misreads the play.  One example – in the backstory of STREETCAR, we know that Stella fled the plantation where the sisters grew up; it was Blanche who remained behind to care for her relatives, as – one by one – they died off, and the family lost everything.  (The play provides us with ample reasons to question Blanche’s truthfulness, especially when she has an opportunity to be self-promoting – but this appears to be undisputed.)

This is critically important to everything follows.  It makes Blanche a fundamentally sympathetic figure, a person we understand to be nurturing and self-sacrificing in ways we don’t see very much during the action of the play.  It also makes us understand that Stella, who superficially seems the pleasanter, more giving and less high-maintenance sister, is far more complicated and self-serving.

Their relationship – including this backstory – is a core to so much of STREETCAR.  For example, Stella’s motivation in allowing Blanche to live in her apartment isn’t purely altruism – she owes her, as Blanche continues to point out.  More broadly, all of it is key to the emotionally tangled world, ambiguous world of Williams’ play.

There’s nothing ambiguous in BLUE JASMINE.  What we know about Jasmine herself is that she’s a gold-digger, motivated from her early adulthood to marry well and get out of the family home.  In this, she’s certainly more Ruth Madoff than Blanche DuBois, and to my mind she’s an intensely unlikeable character.  (That she comes off sympathetically in some ways is entirely due to Blanchett.)

More troubling, it’s only the latest in a parade of female characters that serve as icons of Allen’s mistrust of and contempt for women.

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