Sometimes so-so Woody Allen is so much better than everything else out there that I almost want to give him a pass when he doesn’t quite measure up. Take Midnight in Paris, a charming sort of trifle that, for this critic, was almost sunk by its singular and nasty misogyny (think of the Rachel McAdams character).
So now there’s Blue Jasmine, a captivating movie that gets lots of things right and lots of things wrong, but at least the good outweighs the bad. Cate Blanchett is nothing short of spectacular, and the supporting cast is fine when you don’t want to slap their characters silly—some more than others, anyway.
That’s all a roundabout way of saying Blue Jasmine is worth seeing despite its flaws. The story, in a ripped-from-the-recent headlines fashion, concerns Jasmine (Blanchett) the widow of a Bernie Madoff-type swindler (Alec Baldwin, in a fine and understated turn) who must try to cope in the real world after she’s left with nothing. Jasmine moves to San Francisco to live with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), and Ginger’s two kids. They’re decidedly working class, and Jasmine is upper class in that way that even real upper class people are not. Or at least they’re not outside a Woody Allen movie.
For that matter, one wonders whether Woody’s ever been in the presence of working-class people once he left Brooklyn and became a stand-up comedian. The characters on screen are so one-dimensional—from Ginger to her boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale), to Ginger’s ex-husband, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay)—that it’s hard to form any sort of attachment to them. There are probably guys out there like Chili; you’ve just never met them.
What Blue Jasmine has going for it, though, is what most of Allen’s better films have going for it. The story evolves and evolves and evolves, and what at first feels like it may be one-note ends up much deeper than it originally appeared.
Blue Jasmine, at first, feels like it’s going to be the funny (or funny-ish) story of a woman who’s lost billions and scrapes her way back. It doesn’t end up like that at all. Jasmine is also one of Allen’s thinnest drawn lead characters in a while, but Blanchett fills her with a nervousness, desperation and anti-humility humility that rounds out the character’s weaker attributes.
While living with Ginger, Jasmine takes a job at a dentist’s office as the office assistant, and is soon hit on, horribly, by her boss. Then she meets a rich diplomat, Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), and tries to shoehorn him into a relationship.
That isn’t the half of it, and whether Jasmine’s story rings true with you may depend on how you view her. The charitable may see her as a flawed person caught in a web of near-insanity brought on by her predicament. The less kind will see her as a drip who gets what’s coming to her.
For all of the moral uncertainty Allen puts on the screen—most of it is intentional—there are a few touches that don’t ring true. As nearly always, his working-class characters are a little too broad, a little sage-like in the end. As nearly always, the women seem written by a man who grew up in a bygone era.
Luckily, Hawkins infuses Ginger with humility and humanity, and Clay—yes, Andrew Dice Clay—is something of a revelation as her ex-husband. In fact, he’s so good you may wish he were in more scenes than he is, and wish his character were better drawn. It’s also nice to see Louis CK playing a part very unlike his character on Louie. His brief performance is one of the nice surprises hiding inside Blue Jasmine.
Ultimately, the movie’s success or failure rests on Blanchett, who ably carries the picture’s wobbly screenplay on her shoulders. But maybe that’s Allen’s trick; maybe there’s nothing to Jasmine, and we want to watch her anyway.
Written and directed by Woody Allen
With Cate Blanchett, Andrew Dice Clay and Sally Hawkins
UA DeVargas 6