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by R. Kurt Osenlund
July 26, 2013 11:41 AM
7 Comments
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How 'Blue Jasmine''s Cate Blanchett Became Woody Allen's Lena Dunham

"There's a strong line in American drama of women who walk the borderline between fantasy and reality," Blanchett said, "like Blanche in 'Streetcar' and Mary Tyrone in Eugene O'Neill's 'A Long Day's Journey into Night.' Those are reference points to be drawn upon, which I certainly did. As to whether [the characters are] sympathetic or not, there's a way of looking at that where you can say, 'Is Blanche a compulsive liar? Or is the world just set out to stamp out the poetry in her soul?'"

Now there's a line that could have sprung from the mouth of a certain woe-is-me, self-professed "voice of her generation." Even more than Dunham, Blanchett's formidable chops somehow manage to elicit pity for her character, but viewer sympathy is deeply tested by how she interacts with others. Like Hannah, Jasmine not only exploits people with an almost unconscious wellspring of selfishness ("She never cared about you when she had money," Chili warns Ginger), but also spreads her delusional discontentment like a virus. It's no accident that, as "Girls" has progressed, Marnie (Allison Williams) has continued to inherit the less favorable qualities of her former roommate, and, likewise, after Jasmine rolls into San Fran, her inability to experience peace starts rubbing off on Ginger, who experiments with an affair despite the good man she has at home. The difference is that Ginger retains the wherewithal to bounce back.

"Everyone has issues, and everyone is deluding themselves to some degree," Blanchett said. "Jasmine just does it to a spectacular extent."

Indeed, what "Blue Jasmine" illustrates more than anything else, and what "Girls" presented near the end of its last season, is that denial and the avoidance of mature challenges can severely cripple the psyche. Many loyal fans were alarmed when Hannah was revealed to have a history of OCD, which resurfaced amid the pressure of tackling her first real job, a job she claimed to have always wanted: The writing of an e-book derived from her own material. Hannah started counting her every action, going dangerously deep when cleaning her ears, and revisiting a psychiatrist. What may have seemed like a stretch was in fact a dramatic exaggeration of a plausible millennial meltdown—the spectacular extent, if you will. Though her mother eventually put her foot down, Hannah was raised by enabling parents in the you're-so-special 1990s, and both factors proved as existentially disarming as the recession. Meanwhile, Jasmine, as she exhaustingly reiterates, was "swept off her feet" by Hal in her early twenties, never having to want for anything or lift a finger in her adult life. And though a twist shows just how active Jasmine was in her world-upending rug-pull, the character was already facilitating her own destruction.

"Her flaw is tragic," Blanchett said. "Oedipus, for example, fucks up royally—I mean he marries his mother, for god's sake. But it's a tragedy because he does it unwittingly, and Jasmine is the sort of unwitting agent of her own downfall too. She's on a cocktail of various different things, and that was interesting thing to explore: 'When is she on Xanax? When has she not had a drink?' But I think, in the end, it was the internal cocktail that was really interesting to play. She's so riddled with fear."

And it isn't lost on Blanchett that, right now, that kind of fear has multi-generational relevance. "Even though ['Blue Jasmine'] can seem like the demise or fall from grace of a privileged little rich girl, there's a lot of people who've had a fantasy of what it means to live in America, and that has been blown apart in the last couple of years," the actress said. "So I think there's a lot to relate to for people of all ages, who've had to reshape their economic circumstances in ways forced upon them. They've had to really look at who they are, and what their aspirations are, and what they want, and how they're going to pit themselves against the world now."

As for "Girls," Blanchett claims it's one of her "all-time favorite shows," and if there's a single "Blue Jasmine" scene that typifies both texts' melancholic humor, it's the one in which Jasmine is sitting across a table from Ginger's sons in a restaurant. Looking drunk and bedraggled, and getting grilled by the kids about the rumors they've heard from their mom, Jasmine is spilling her guts about Prozac and electro-shock therapy. The scene is a riot if only for the looks on the kids' faces, but it's also terribly unfortunate, as it soon becomes clear that Jasmine, who could easily be swapped out for Hannah, has less emotional maturity than her preteen nephews. At last, Jasmine levels with the boys, confessing, "There's only so many traumas a person can withstand before they take to the streets and start screaming." Or, ya know, jab their eardrums with Q-Tips.

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7 Comments

  • jasmine | July 30, 2013 2:16 AMReply

    Its a nice movie..

    watch Blue Jasmine online

  • Lily Hound | July 29, 2013 11:48 PMReply

    Author R. Kurt Osenlund seems a bit obsessed with "maturity," as though he has an axe to grind. Not much of a review. I will, nonetheless, look forward to seeing Woody Allen's new film. Have been waiting for months, actually.

  • R. Kurt Osenlund | July 30, 2013 10:45 AM

    Hi Lily,
    Thanks for reading. You might be onto something in saying that I'm obsessed with issues of maturity, but I don't think I have an axe to grind, as that would imply I have an agenda against someone or something. Also, this is not a review. As for BLANCHETT's quote—funny, I thought that is what I wrote about...

  • Lily Hound | July 29, 2013 11:59 PM

    p.s.

    I like this quote from Blanchette... "Even though ['Blue Jasmine'] can seem like the demise or fall from grace of a privileged little rich girl, there's a lot of people who've had a fantasy of what it means to live in America, and that has been blown apart in the last couple of years... So I think there's a lot to relate to for people of all ages, who've had to reshape their economic circumstances in ways forced upon them. They've had to really look at who they are, and what their aspirations are, and what they want, and how they're going to pit themselves against the world now."

    This would be worth writing about...

  • Paul | July 29, 2013 3:05 PMReply

    This article strains hard to compare two dramatically different talents, from the trivial (Lena Dunham) to the legendary (Woody Allen). It's not even close.

  • R. Kurt Osenlund | July 30, 2013 10:44 AM

    Hey Paul,
    Here's hoping you saw “Blue Jasmine” before coming to this conclusion. As observed, the antiheroines and their circumstances have a great many similarities, and what I've explored here really has nothing to do with one writer/artist being better or worse than the other. Given the results, it really wouldn't matter if the two women were dreamt up by J.K. Rowling and Dr. Seuss. Their parallels, and what they both reflect about today's society, hold up. And while I don't mean to sound at all pompous, apart from my carpal tunnel acting up, I can comfortably say there was really no strain involved here. This article basically wrote itself.

  • Joe Strong | July 27, 2013 9:30 AMReply

    Good article. I can't wait to see this, Blanchett has been away from screen roles like this for far too long - she is pretty much the only actress of her generation who still has the insatiable ability to produce performances like you've described. Here's to hoping that she keeps getting the recognition and respect she deserves not just for her craft but for her commitment to class acting on and off screen.