What Gertrude Stein is reputed to have said about Oakland--"There is no there there"--unfortunately might also be applied to Allen's most recent film, Blue Jasmine. Cate Blanchett gives a superb portrayal of Jasmine, a woman who has married up and lives a life of leisure, consuming only vodka and tranquilizers. Completely self-centered, she goes to pieces when her charming husband (Alec Baldwin) gets nabbed for investor fraud and all their worldly goods are confiscated (which you would think would be bad enough, but no: Allen has to include scenes in which she finally learns of her husband's long-standing infidelities and his desire for a divorce). Her solution is to leave the East and go to San Francisco to live with her sister, well played by Sally Hawkins, who has remained in the blue collar world Jasmine somehow managed to escape. It's improbable on the face of it that this physically attractive but mindless Jasmine could have managed to reach the top 1% on her own, but never mind.
At its core, this purports to be a comedy based on class differences, with Jasmine struggling to survive in a working class environment. Blanchett is wonderful, but her role is inadequately conceived. There may well be a nod on Woody Allen's part to Streetcar Named Desire, but the difference is that we care about Blanche DuBois. With one exception, which I'll return to in a moment, we don't care about Jasmine. Allen puts Jasmine in unfamiliar situations, having to make conversation with her sister's complacently male friends, for example, or writhing away from a dentist's embraces after she finally lands a job as his receptionist, but Allen doesn't shape the scenes. Any controlling point of view is noteworthy by its absence. Jasmine can not learn how to use a computer, for example. This is not amusing, it's inane. She gratuitously lies about herself and her past to an attractive man (Peter Sarsgaard) she meets at a party. He falls for it. Inane again. Window shopping for an engagement ring, the two of them are unexpectedely confronted by Jasmine's former brother-in-law (Andrew Dice Clay). The engagement is off. Quelle surprise! Do we care? No. The machinery of the plot all but creaks. Are we amused? No. Do we gain any self-knowledge, seeing some portion of ourselves mirrored, if only darkly? No.
I mentioned earlier that Jasmine is completely self-centered. Throughout the film, she continually talks about herself. By the end, hopeless, she goes to a park and begins muttering. She's become the kind of person on a park bench the rest of us edge away from. At this point, paradoxically, we care about her. Yes, she's brought this upon herself, but now she's mentally ill. What Allen apparently doesn't realize is that she deserves our compassion, not our contempt. Puck might see her plight as an example of what fools we mortals are. But Allen is no Puck, and this is no comedy, not even a satiric one. There's no there there. It's simply cruel.
A miss, an utter miss.