‘Blue Jasmine’ hits mark

September 5, 2013 

Woody Allen returns to good form with his loose screen interpretation of the classic Elia Kazan film "A Streetcar Named Desire." "Blue Jasmine" digs deeper than his recent successes ("Midnight in Paris," "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," "Match Point"). Not since "Husbands and Wives," released more than 20 years ago, has Allen accomplished such a clean welding of devastating high drama and side pinching comedy.

We begin on a cross country flight from New York to San Francisco. Jasmine (played by Cate Blanchett) is recently bankrupt after her shady investor husband Al (Alec Baldwin) gets caught committing fraud and everything — the Park Avenue penthouse, the mansion in the Hamptons, the yoga and Pilates sessions, the brunches and the shopping sprees — all are gone. In San Francisco lives her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins); Jasmine always thought Ginger was a loser, now she's the only one willing to help, well kind of.

Ginger lives, as far as Jasmine is concerned, in embarrassing squalor. Jasmine tries to adapt. She takes a job as a secretary at a dentist's office. It doesn't go over so well. She tries out computer classes to become a home decorator. That doesn't fly either. She's been pampered and lied to, and has lied to others, for too long to truly depend on herself. Her sister Ginger and her ex Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) invested in Al's pyramid scheme and lost everything. Jasmine feels guilty, but it's difficult to take off the mask.

There is also Ginger's new beau Chili (Bobby Cannavale), who isn't as patient with Jasmine as Ginger is. And a wealthy diplomat named Dwight who gives Jasmine hope of returning to her old lifestyle.

But ultimately this is Cate Blanchett's film. It's a virtuoso performance. Allen left Blanchett to her own devices, and she brought her experience playing Blanche Dubois on stage to deliver a layered performance that is a devastating crash waiting to happen.

Blanchett doesn't let us take our eyes off of her.

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