I’ve grown up watching Woody Allen’s films, so he will always have a soft spot in my heart. When I was a little girl, the black and white Manhattan had me totally bewitched and lusting after an obscenely romanticized New York. When I was in my teens, Penelope Cruz made me question the boundaries of my sexuality as I planned a future honeymoon to Barcelona, with my husband and wife of course.
But now, in my university environment, where I’m surrounded by radical opinions, open debate, and am constantly challenged to reconsider, I must take a closer look at my love affair with Mr. Allen. Long story short: What’s the deal with his obsession with women? Long story even shorter: Does it ever become…sexist?
He once said that he’s “always felt more sanguine about women than about men.” He finds them "more mature, less bellicose, most gentle” and he insists, “They're closer to what life's supposed to be about”. He’s been called “the ladies man” of cinema because nearly all his films feature women in every important lead and often in every important supporting character. Allen usually plays the man, or has another actor be his stand-in. And in a male-dominated cinematic realm, he is unique in this sense. He constantly creates passionate, layered, gorgeous, mesmerizing female characters. The actresses of Allen’s films have together won eleven Oscars. And Blue Jasmine is true to form.
Cate Blanchett is sure to steal the Oscar this year with her powerful portrayal of a modern Blanche Dubois. Woody explains that, in many ways, his fascination with women was the result of his relationship with Diane Keaton, who came to be the star of many of his films. No one can deny that he offers movies that are filled and focused almost entirely on female characters and female relationships. But is that enough?
I can’t help but identify a key pattern in most of his women; they’re all nuts. And Jasmine is perhaps the nuttiest of them all. Allen is almost unkind, almost merciless in his destruction of this woman. At times it was hard to watch. I regularly felt that odd compulsion to laugh, the way you sometimes feel a laugh bubbling in your chest at a funeral. I felt thoroughly sorry for this woman who clearly had severe psychological problems while likely suffered from drug abuse and alcoholism. Blanchett gave us a fantastic performance (she blue me away, hah) and Allen gave us a clever, clean, fresh and exciting story – but her character, her neurotic mess of a character – was only the next in a long line of Allen’s crazy ladies.
While I may daydream about a love triangle with Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz – barely any part of me would like that dream realized. Cruz, or Maria Elena, routinely has mental breakdowns and tries to kill herself while Johansson, or Cristina, is so lost and confused that her character effectively becomes the laughing stock of the film. And Penelope Cruz is basically as far as he will venture off Western soil – his women are always white, beautiful, and upper middle-class. While this may be a tired argument against most forms of Western entertainment, I strongly insist that it’s time for this seventy-seven year old to discover what lies beyond the clichéd cities of love and culture. Why can’t he discover Midnight in Tehran or go To Punjab with Love?
It pains me to discredit Woody, it really does. And don’t get me wrong, Blue Jasmine is a smart, entertaining film – you should see it. But as an almost-women from a minority background who sincerely hopes to remain fairly sane for at least the next thirty or so years – Allen’s forty-nine films leave something to be desired.