Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” Rides “Streetcar”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Tennessee Williams wrote the first draft of “A Streetcar Named Desire” while staying at the La Concha Hotel here in Key West in 1947. It won a Pulitzer Prize. It’s the story of a fading belle who is forced to move in with her sister and depend “on the kindness of strangers." Woody Allen pays homage to the Williams play with “Blue Jasmine,” his latest movie. It’s currently playing at Tropic Cinema.
Instead of destitute Blanche DuBois, Woody gives us Jeanette “Jasmine” Francis, a wealthy New York socialite who has lost everything. Think: Mrs. Bernie Madoff. She’s been reduced to relying on the kindness of strangers. Well, her estranged adopted sister to be more precise.
Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett (“The Aviator,” “Elizabeth”) takes on the role of Jasmine. She’s well cast, having played the role of Blanche DuBois on stage a few years ago. That said, Blanchett dismisses the comparison. She insists that the sensibilities of the two women are worlds apart.
“If there’s any reference point for the character, a woman of once-great fortune now faded arrives at her sister of an entirely different class to ask for help, and the sister is partnered to a man of the more animal variety than she is used to -- well, OK, the setup is very similar.”
She pauses to stick to her premise. “But the way it evolved, you can’t hope to put Blanche DuBois in a Woody Allen film.”
Then how about Ruth Madoff? The Woodman has denied that the Bernie Madoff scandal was any sort of influence, but Cate Blanchett is a tad more forthcoming. “Maybe a little bit,” she avers. “I’m not playing Ruth Madoff but there are a lot of those women who’ve found themselves working in the proverbial shoe store, who have fallen from grace, been estranged from their friends and their social circle, and set adrift because of their husbands’ shocking deeds.”
In this case, her Ponzi-scheming hubby is played in flashback by Alec Baldwin (TV’s “30 Rock”). Now widowed, left with nothing, she’s moved to the far-flung city of San Francisco to live with her sibling.
Sally Hawkins (“Happy-Go-Lucky”) is cast as Jasmine’s downscale sister Ginger. Brando-esque Bobby Cannavale (TV’s “Boardwalk Empire”) plays Ginger’s handyman boyfriend Chili, who comes off as a “kindler, gentler Stanley Kowalski.” He even has a “Stella!” scene in a grocery store.
“She never cared about you when she had money,” Chili warns Ginger.
Looking for stability, Jasmine takes a job with an ass-grabbing dentist (Michael Stuhlbarg) but sets her eye on a rich politico (Peter Saesgaard). What else is a vodka-swilling and Xanax-popping widow to do?
Turns out, Jasmine is more than just blue. She’s coming unglued, her link to reality quite frayed. As Jasmine tells her nephews, “There’s only so many traumas a person can withstand before they take to the streets and start screaming.”
“There’s a strong line in American drama of women who walk the borderline between fantasy and reality,” Blanchett tells us. “Like Blanche in ‘Streetcar’ and Mary Tyrone in Eugene O'Neill's ‘A Long Day's Journey into Night.’”
Yes, back to Blanche.
“The pleasurable thing for me to play was Jasmine being such an unreliable narrator,” says Cate Blanchett. “She believes like all great fantasists and all good liars in what she’s saying in the moment. It’s not until after it’s come out of her mouth that, then, she has to see it through.”
Just like Blanche in “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
“You could say that Tennessee Williams in ‘Streetcar’ describes the moment of the death of poetry in America,” says the actress. “In the Woody Allen universe, does poetry even exist? What is the value of poetry? It’s definitely more sort of existential angst. To have tried to play Blanche in that environment would have been a bit of creative suicide, I think.”
Creative suicide? Maybe Cate Blanchett is an unreliable narrator too.
She should get nominated for an Oscar for this performance -- on and off screen.