Movie Review: 'Blue Jasmine' -- 3 stars
Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Andrew Dice Clay, Alec Baldwin
Woody Allen has worked with great actors throughout his career, everyone from Diane Keaton to Sean Penn. But he's never had a lead quite like Cate Blanchett, who is not merely a terrific performer but one of the all-time greats.
"Blue Jasmine," Allen's latest, is carried by the synergy of its maker's characteristically sharp scripting and the Brando-esque Blanchett, who is in virtually every frame of the movie. This is one of the few Allen movies to be so resolutely dominated by a single actor and the film is all-the-better for it.
The actress specializes in composed patrician characters (her most famous movie role, obviously, remains Queen Elizabeth I) but fits right into Allen's dialogue-heavy, neurotic mold as Jasmine, the clueless ex-wife of Bernie Madoff-like Wall Street scammer Hal (Alec Baldwin). Used to Park Avenue and the Hamptons, she must rebuild her life in San Francisco in the small, blue-collar apartment of adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) after Hal's downfall at the hands of the feds.
With its allusion to Madoff and other similar scandals, the movie is as ripped-from-the-headlines as anything Allen has made. There are many interwoven flashbacks that reveal Jasmine's privileged existence. The filmmaker gets considerable dramatic mileage out of the then-and-now contrasts, establishing the extent of Jasmine's social tumble. But this is not a case of Allen commenting on current events or the foibles of his Upper East Side neighbors.
"Blue Jasmine" is a character study, through and through, the story of a woman grappling with a tremendous trauma and the emotions that come with it. The movie begins with Jasmine flying to San Francisco, exhausting her seatmate with a cross-country tale of woe. She subsequently shares her sob story with anyone who will listen, boozing, stumbling and vomiting out unsolicited thoughts and advice culled from her experiences.
There are multiple down-to-earth characters, including Hawkins' Ginger and those played by Andrew Dice Clay and Bobby Cannavale, who exist to put Jasmine's "problems" in perspective. Allen's screenwriting aids the process. The character says she's broke and tapped out, but flies first class with designer bags in tow.
But the genius of Blanchett's performance lies in the way she sells us on the urgency of Jasmine's concerns and the depth of her plight. She masters the art of saying one thing and meaning something completely different, affecting a sincere obliviousness that grounds the character. We understand Jasmine even when her ego hits overdrive; we see that she wants to get her act together but has no idea how to go about doing so. Blanchett transforms Jasmine's elitist affectations into the portrait of an individual at war with herself, struggling to cope with the burdens of reality after a long, carefree stint in the land of the privileged. You can't take your eyes off her.