August 20, 2013 by Ian Goldstein
Couples walked out of Blue Jasmine holding hands. Woody Allen’s new film is funny, but it’s not a feel good movie. It has romance, but it’s not a romantic comedy. There’s not much about this movie that would make anyone feel closer, except maybe the image of seeing someone alone. Blatantly, the film is about a woman struggling to get her life together after she’s lost everything. Subtly, it’s about the fear of loneliness, of not being supported.
Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) pretends. Life circles around her as she looks down, acting as if she sees nothing. Then, when life strikes, she reacts by downing anxiety medication or telling her sister to meet a better guy. Blue Jasmine wavers between wanting the viewer to pity the protagonist and simultaneously laugh at her. Jasmine, told in flashbacks, is the wife of Hal, a wealthy businessman (Alec Baldwin). She lies in the bathtub wondering what to wear to a social gathering. This Jasmine we laugh at. She is a wealthy snob who fell into money. Present Jasmine is delusional and searching for support. This Jasmine we pity. When Jasmine talks to herself it’s funny; an elderly man thinks she is coming on to him. When Jasmine talks to herself it’s tragic; she is sitting alone on a bench.
Allen loves exploring the dichotomy between tragedy in comedy. His IMDB page proves this. His first few movies—Take the Money and Run, Bananas, Sleeper—were straight comedies. Annie Hall is his career-divider, the film he split into a comedy and drama. Allen’s ’80s films—Hannah and Her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanors—were barely comedic. His most blatant attempt at exploring the difference between comedy and tragedy was with Melinda and Melinda, a film about friends sitting around a table wondering if a woman named Melinda’s story could be funny just as easily as it could be dramatic.
Rather than conspicuously saying “Here’s a drama on one side and here’s a comedy on the other,” Allen intertwines the two in Blue Jasmine. He makes the viewer question whether it’s funny that Jasmine’s sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), has a boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale) who tears a phone off of a wall and cries. Allen forces viewers to wonder if Jasmine deserves to regain the life she lost.
How she lost that life is a mystery until the end of the film; this is one of the aspects of the plot that makes Jasmine such a difficult character to truly understand. The film begins with Jasmine telling the story about how she and Hal met and as it progresses she tells the same story over. The more she tells the story the more the line between comedy and drama becomes apparent. The setting she is telling it in is everything. If she’s recalling the story in front of her 11-year-old nephews, we laugh because its ridiculous. If she’s says it aloud to herself, we pity her.
Couples walked out of the movie holding hands, seeming closer than when they walked in. Maybe seeing someone in a complete state of isolation can make any introvert desire a companion.