Steve Heisler

Teacher Author Speaker


"Every single child wants to be successful. The problem is, if they can't be successful at being successful, they'll be successful at screwing up. Our job as educators is to change the latter to the former."    

- from the The Missing Link by Steve Heisler

Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine: Mediocre at Best

Although I am not a Woody Allen movie fan (though Annie Hall was a really good movie) Blue Jasmine in many ways is the culmination of all that is wrong with his films. Blue Jasmine, while not great, was actually not as horrible to sit through as so may other pieces of crap like the abysmal To Rome with Love. Blue Jasmine however is made especially palatable by the work of the amazingly talented Cate Blanchette  who brings emotional power to a role written without much power.

The script, as most of Allen's films are, is weak as shit on character development and full of clumsy plot twist cliches that do little except move the action where the auteur wants to go without having to do the work of actually developing a meaningful, precise script. That is not required, of course, of any work but this film, as do many of his other movies, pretends to be  deep. Comparing this tepid script to the depth and emotional power of what was most certainly its source material,  A Streetcar Named Desire, is to really understand this weaker script's failing.

I won't belabor all the weaknesses, and there are many, from characters whose only role is to foster some kind of reaction or plot shift, such as Jasmine's nephews and step-son, who are mainly set pieces, to Jasmine's husband's suicide in prison. Nothing is rooted and grown from any meaningful understanding of character. Perhaps I missed it but where is even a smidgen of an indication that the husband might be given to despair deep enough to want to die by suicide, let alone have the wherewithal to manage this in prison! The suicide function is there to remove what might force Allen to have to explore  a complex struggle of internal loyalty conflicts (such as those played out by Ruth Madoff and her children) that might require a depth of human understanding I have seen only in glimpses in any film written by Woody Allen film and mostly by accident. I think, for instance, of how utterly disdainful his character was of his benighted fans in Stardust Memories or how creepy his character was in Manhattan (particularly while tying to beg his 30 - 40 years younger high school inamorata not to move on) as being probably the most nakedly real of any of his characters, .  

A perfect example of his mediocrity is played out in the serendipitous meeting between Jasmine's former brother-in-law (played by Andrew Dice=Clay) and Jasmine outside of the jewelry store that sets the final denouement in motion. Out of nowhere along shambles Dice to do  damage to her marital  machinations by monologizing "every truth" of her life story, including the existence of her son, she has tried to keep from her benighted boyfriend. This fool one must assume, though there is little in the sprict to indicate any of this,is is too trusting and smitten or simply too ignorant to so much a do so much as even a cursory search about her online .

Perhaps I missed this too but did Dice and Jasmine's sister  actually ever meet the son on screen?  And it wasn't as though Jasmine wanted to share much about her life with her sister.  in front of her befuddled boyfriend, another well played nothing character. This is the big cliche that precede's Jasmine's final comeuppance: a cliched ending to a person of questionable ethics who in effect had it coming.  Is this bad...well, yes and know.

But this the point: such a scene could make  perfect sense had the writer had the vision or the ability to build it into his script.  I always believe that writers can do whatever they please, create the mist impossible happenings, who cares, But what great writers do is that they make the impossible believable by building verisimilitude, connecting all the dots: the deus ex machina went out with Sophocles, Woody!

Why isn't Dice obsessed with revenge, plotting, willing to destroy his whole life to exact some recompense. Could he not have picked up an inkling of Jasmine's burgining love interest, trailed her, plotted for the perfect opportunity, wheedled himself into becoming the plumber of the boyfriend.  Who knows. Do your writerly work, Make it meaningful, make it real!

A story that might well be apocryphal concerns an incident that happened to James Joyce while he was living in Trieste at the turn of the century. Supposedly his landlord had pestered him incessantly to read his unpublished novel and the story goes that at last he wore down. Surprisingly what Joyce found was that his landlord's novel, where a man rejects the love of a woman and then regretting said rejection, spends the rest of his life perusing her without success,  was neither horrid nor brilliant but rather had a voice and style that Joyce found interesting.

What Joyce suggested however was that what was missing was the very thing that elevated writing from merely story to shared human experience. What is essential  is found in specifying rather than generalizing: what is the telling action that makes this story particular to this person, this place, this time. Joyce's suggestion was to make a very simple change and to revise from the top with this idea in mind.

In the final scene the old man finds the locket he gave his love oh so many, many years before in the dirt and realized all is lost. He lifts the thing to his lips, kisses it, and the book ends. What Joyce suggested was that what he should do, given the nature of this character, is wipe the dirt on his lapel just before he brings it to his lips.

This is the truth that Woody Allen never even came close to capturing in his mediocre film.