What I find undeniably satisfying about Woody Allen’s films is his ability to create bitingly accurate representations of modern relationships and love from the most topical of sources. In Blue Jasmine, Jasmine and her husband Hal are the epitome of New York money: think Wolf of Wall St.'s Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) or real-life Ponzi scheme crook Bernie Madoff. In both stories of classic Wall St. corruption, Belfort and Madoff take center-stage in the financial investment drama, but who hasn't wondered what goes on in the minds and lives of their 'embittered' wives? The wives who stood by them for years as they made off with and flushed away the retirement funds of hard-working individuals? The wives who claimed to know nothing about what went on behind-the-scenes, yet enjoyed the wealth their husbands plundered away from the undeserving? This element puts Jasmine in a complicated position for the audience: we don't know whether or not we should or want to sympathize with her. This mystery follows the entire narrative of the story. The structure, which is an excitingly elliptical narrative of flashbacks interlaced with present-day drama, keeps you from siding with any character throughout. It reveals little at a time, culminating in a resolution that, though far from blindsighting, is nevertheless a resolution that raises more questions than it answers, however, provides an aspect to the story that further complicates the audience's connection with Jasmine.
Also worthy of note is Sally Hawkins, who plays Jasmine’s adopted sister Ginger. The two women share a complicated dynamic in which Jasmine is constantly advising, to the point of nagging, Ginger to find a man who isn’t a loser—a worthy man who will show that Ginger has self-respect. Ironically, Jasmine herself is the sister who needs to learn about self-respect. Compared to Ginger, who’s enjoying her own apartment and thriving in her love life, Jasmine is broke, homeless, and still recovering after a nervous breakdown. It’s a telling portrait of our contemporary mindset of striving for the best—an end goal—and completely missing out on the importance of what’s in front of us. In her continual struggle to find material items to self-validate: the house, the husband with a presence in the public eye, the first-class flights, the high-status career, Jasmine has lost those most important to her, resigning herself to the one person she left out the most when she was at the top: her sister.
Though the ending feels rushed and leaves much to be desired, it is a fittingly open-ended resolution for a woman who is in-transition. While we may never know what happens to Jasmine, the film delivers its own sense of justice by closing with the message that those who screw up get what’s coming to them. It’s a dark and cruel stance, but honestly, who’s going to argue with it?
When this news story first popped up on my feed I chalked it up to another annoying commentary by a fan/hater, or, “frieneviewer”, who had nothing nice to say about Girls—which I should preface with saying that I love—yet watched the show long enough to tally up the ‘shocking’ amount of nude scenes. However, several days after the fact, when I was sent the link by a friend, it turned out that the commenter was actually a journalist, that journalist being Tim Molloy, TV editor of The Wrap. He, now famously, had the gall to ask Lena Dunham, quote, (and I quote),
“I don’t get the purpose of all the nudity on the show. By you particularly. I feel like I’m walking into a trap where you say no one complains about the nudity on ‘Game of Thrones,’ but I get why they’re doing it. They’re doing it to be salacious. To titillate people. And your character is often naked at random times for no reason.”
Now, when I initially read that, I dismissed it entirely, believing it to be another sorry excuse for a reason not to watch Girls and its portrayal of “spoiled, twenty-something women”. But for some reason, this news story continues to plague the blogosphere, with women (and men) voicing their disdain (and agreement). Personally, yeah, I do find the question a little repulsive, specifically in the way Molloy decided to phrase it. He emphatically states in his article,
“I’m not un-proud of myself in any way because everyone I know has wondered the same thing. I don’t understand as a writer, what the reason for it is. I’m not against it.”
Yes, but you also realize, as a writer, the influence of tone and connotation? When Molloy asked, “I don’t get the purpose of all the nudity on the show. By you particularly”, he specifically targeted Dunham in his accusation. It’s not a secret that Dunham has been repeatedly attacked for her liberal portrayal of (her own) nudity on her show. And it’s not a secret that most of those attacks come from those offended by the way her body looks. It should therefore not be a secret to Molloy, a popular online publication’s TV editor, to read up on popular culture and mainstream opinion, especially on a show that is as polarizing and heavily debated as Girls. As a viewer and a fan, I “get” what Dunham is trying to do as a writer, producer, performer, and director. Unlike most other creatives in the entertainment industry, Dunham’s ability to take full force of her show, effectively acting as star and showrunner, has put her in a unique position to both effectively tell her story but also make a resounding statement on the status of young adult women in contemporary media.
If you’ve never heard of it, the "male gaze" is a well-documented aspect of film/television criticism and feminist theory. The concept, introduced by theorist Laura Mulvey in her 1975 essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, stated that women were objectified in film because heterosexual men were in control of the camera. Classic Hollywood films and TV played to the models of voyeurism and scopophilia (a form of sexual pleasure derived from looking at objects), largely through the way the female body was portrayed on-screen as a way of (in the words of Molloy) “titillating” audiences. As women increasingly saturate the film and television market, both as audiences and creators, the male gaze has been questioned and (perhaps optimistically) resisted, at least insofar as Girls is concerned. Though television and film is still largely oversaturated with female performers who are undeniably attractive and genetically perfect on a physical level (i.e. Michael Bay’s parade of models in Transformers, the intentionally excessive use of scantily clad and nude women in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, and aptly titled Pretty Little Liars or The Vampire Diaries), mainstream media has also moved toward embracing the idea of a more normally-proportioned, intrinsically-beautiful woman (think Jennifer Lawrence and Mindy Kaling). In my opinion, this is where Girls finds its forte and earns its passion from female viewers.
The girls of Girls are (I’m told) incredibly hard to like. Neither of them are model-beautiful or remotely likable in personality. They are selfish, rash, irresponsible, and inconsequential to others’ feelings. But honestly, this is why I love them. Unlike the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, a character of male fantasy, the Girls girls are just like real girls: they make mistakes, they are rude, they care *mostly* about only themselves, and they mooch off of their families and friends. They aren’t attainable, they really aren’t/don’t feel the need to be concerned about their physical appearance; their lives really aren’t that different from an actual twenty-something’s. A consequence of this, is yeah, “real people are naked sometimes”. My opinion, which I understand will come off as pretentious, is that Dunham is an auteur and has a vision for what she wants Girls to be. While the actresses may not be comfortable with nude portrayals on-screen, Dunham, as the showrunner, is confident in herself, and her show, to put herself in that position. To me, Girls is as realistic as they come, and that’s why I tune in every week (and will be once Season 3 premieres). Nude or not, it’s the artist’s vision that is portrayed on-screen, and as the director, actor, writer, and producer, I do feel that Dunham has the ability (and the responsibility) to create a cinematic world that effectively tells her story as a twenty-something post-grad trying to make it as a writer. As one myself, I can confirm that much of my day is also spent reclining naked in compromising positions.