Woody Allen may be hitting what’s left of his stride, following up the late-late-career successes of Midnight in Paris and To Rome with Love with another noteworthy picture. While this portrait of a woman being slowly destroyed by her own hubris isn’t on par with Allen’s best pictures, it demonstrates how keen his ear still is for dialogue and how sharp his eye remains for finding the hidden emotion truths within external human behaviors. Cate Blanchett heads up the cast as Jasmine, the financially and psychologically damaged ex-wife of a Bernie Madoff-esque Wall Street swindler played by Alec Baldwin. After his downfall, Jasmine retreats to the modest San Francisco apartment of her working-class sister, played by Sally Hawkins—like Blanchett, a famous Brit pulling off an unimpeachably American character.
Blue Jasmine is a rare film for Allen in that it is first and foremost a character study rather than a situational comedy or a morality play. And what a fascinating study he and Blanchett have constructed. Jasmine is imperious, infuriating, fragile, funny, desperate, delusional, trifling, and tragic. She's the latest in an unrivaled compendium of rich and diverse female roles Allen has brought to life over the last 50 years, and I will be astonished if Blanchett doesn’t join the enormous roster of actresses who receive an Oscar nomination for their performance in one of his movies.
Blanchett and Hawkins play off each other perfectly, each performing from an opposite end of the acting spectrum. It’s too bad many of the other roles are miscast. This is also an impressive ensemble movie; quite possibly the best cast in an Allen picture since 2004’s acclaimed Match Point. Every actor in the film produces a real and resonant individual with a full-bodied history that somehow seems to stretch beyond what Allen shows us on screen. Even under-developed characters like Peter Sarsgaard's naive wanna-be politician feel more authentic than I would expect given how late he arrives in the story. And only in a Woody Allen picture could the most redeeming male character, and the moral center of the picture, be played by Andrew Dice Clay; an actor most well-known for his early-90’s viciously misogynistic stand-up comedy persona. Clay pulls of his role with aplomb and brings a dignity and strength that is often lacking in Allen’s blue-collar characterizations.
This is first of Allen’s nearly fifty films without a single self-conscious moment, perhaps because it is also the first good movie he’s made that lacks any subtext. On a thematic level, the film isn’t really about anything, except maybe Allen’s frequent assertion that most men are cads, and that women must rely on their superior wits, charm and beauty if they don't want to become casualties of the bums they pin their hopes on. While not an upbeat movie, it is full of life, energy, and forward momentum.