With Blue Jasmine (opening in wide release this weekend) writer/director Woody Allen combines the duel plots his 2004 film Melinda and Melinda. Cate Blanchett plays Jasmine, an upper-class Manhattan socialite who can’t imagine a life without designer fashions and a guest home in The Hamptons. She’s forced to move-in with Ginger (Sally Hawkins) her blue-collar step-sister. Jasmine is dead broke – though she can fly first-class – because her late-husband (Alec Baldwin) was arrested for running a Bernie Madoff-esque operation that she’s willing to turn a blind-eye to because it funded her lifestyle.
With his supplanted character, Allen returns to his fascination with class divide – even by having his main character move from one of the most expensive American cities to another – Jasmine still clings to her designer outfits and luggage, while Ginger owns her bohemian fashions. If there’s a positive personality quality in Jasmine, she looks down on her sister’s lifestyle, not her sister. “You could always do so much better,” Jasmine repeats throughout. She has reason to say it. Ginger is divorced with to kids by her ex-husband (Andrew Dice Clay, in one of the film’s strongest performances) whom Jasmine suspects hit Ginger at least once. Ginger’s new boyfriend (Bobby Canavale) doesn’t register any better with Jasmine. She can’t imagine anyone not constantly striving for that elegant lifestyle though it’s clear she repeats because she has nothing else to say to Ginger.
While the repetition offers some characterization for Jasmine and sends us to the ending, it’s also the films biggest flaw. As with most rehashes, the material here is far weaker than it’s predecessors. Allen’s best work has a strong respect for the audience so the only reason for the repetition seems to be to fill time. The story arc isn’t clear and it certainly didn’t need to be but it’s far from compelling and when we get to the big reveal, it results in a shrug rather than a gasp.
It’s a shame because the acting is top-notch across the board. Blanchett continues to prove she is the best actress working today. She treads the line between trauma and insanity to its sweaty, murmuring, Stoli-downing perfection. Her performance allows the transition to the aforementioned ending to move smoother than it should. Beyond the lead, Louis C.K. is at his most charming as an alternative love interest for Ginger. It might be this reviewer’s love for C.K. but his short time on-screen is a joy to watch. Even Peter Sarsgaard, who has been spotty as of late, fits into Allen’s writing style cleanly.
That’s what makes Blue Jasmine a win for Allen and as he continues to release a film every year, it’s what we have come to expect. They might be sloppy or derivative of his own work but thankfully there will always be actors ready to give him everything they have and make the most of what’s on the page.
*** 1/2 / *****