Beyond the Bechdel Test: ‘Blue Jasmine’ Is Probably One Reason Cate Blanchett Is Happy about Hollywood Roles for Women

Credit: Warner Brothers Credit: Warner Brothers

By JORDAN ECARMA

This column is what happens when you’re a conservative feminist who loves movies. The Bechdel test is pretty basic: Does this movie have a scene where two women with names talk about something other than a guy? The point of the test is not “movies that pass this are feminist”—it’s “this is the absolute base point of whether or not women are their own people in this movie.” I attempt to go a little further each week with a deeper analysis. 

The film: Cate Blanchett glows, repulses, frustrates and inspires by turn in the film’s title role, bringing the perfect mix of fragility, charm and snobbery to the story of a lost socialite trying to start over in San Francisco. Woody Allen wrote and directed, and Blanchett scored her second Oscar for the role of Jasmine.  

The conversation: Jasmine and her sister, Ginger (played by Sally Hawkins), have multiple conversations about their lives, including tension over their upbringing (they were both adopted, and Jasmine was supposedly the favored sister) and their respective futures. Jasmine was married to a rich businessman who turned out to be a crook, while Ginger has never been with a man that had Jasmine’s approval.

The real deal: Speaking to press before a screening of her new film “Carol,” Blanchett recently celebrated the availability of interesting roles for women in movies.

 “Every time there are interesting complex roles played by actresses on screen someone asks, ‘does this mean there’s going to be more of the same?’” said Blanchett, as quoted by BBC News.

“We seem to every year find ourselves in the same conversation, that somehow it’s remarkable.

“I think there’s a swathe of great roles for women and swathe of wonderful female performers. I think it’s just time to get on with it.”

I love Blanchett’s all-business attitude: Yes, there are incredible roles for women out there. Let’s keep doing what we’re doing.

Considering that Blanchett’s lived experience includes “Blue Jasmine,” it’s no wonder she’s excited about Hollywood roles for women. Jasmine is a role of a lifetime—a uniquely nuanced portrait of a woman adrift that takes Blanchett through the full spectrum of human emotion. We see Jasmine passionate and very much in love; cold, selfish and angry; fragile, neurotic and unhinged; on top of the world and in the dust.

While Allen is known for writing and directing films that focus on men (often played by himself), “Blue Jasmine” isn’t the first movie he’s made that centers on a woman. It recalls some of the themes in “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” which stars Mia Farrow and also focuses on a woman who is looking for an escape from her current life.

Like Farrow’s Cecilia, Jasmine is in love with an ideal. The difference is that Jasmine actually had her ideal in real life, or thought she did, when she was married to Hal, a wolf in gentleman’s clothing played to sleazy yet cultured perfection by Alec Baldwin.

Jasmine’s habit of turning a blind eye when her husband seems to be having an affair or cheating on his taxes eventually catches up to her. After the dust settles, Jasmine is penniless and adrift, semi-humbly crawling back to the sister she scorned during her years as a Park Avenue socialite.

Despite the emphasis on how men have or haven’t bettered their lives, it’s the relationship between the two sisters that subtly underpins “Blue Jasmine.” The tension laced with love—or is it love laced with tension?—between her and Ginger is as important as any romantic connection in the film. Jasmine’s past with charming, crooked Hal and her potential future with rich, politically ambitious Dwight (Peter Saarsgard) are both fantasies. One required turning a blind eye to reality, while the other is a precarious house of cards built on lies about virtually everything in Jasmine’s past. In both situations, Jasmine is living a lie whether consciously or unconsciously. It’s only when she’s talking to her sister that Jasmine is delightfully, achingly, devastatingly real. 

Jordan Ecarma is a former journalist now living the millennial dream: getting paid for writing Facebook statuses (that is, digital PR). She watches her use of the f-word (“feminism”) around conservatives and the c-word (“conservatism”) around feminists. Find her under @JordanEcarma.

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