Blue Jasmine (Sony Pictures Classics, PG-13)

Blue-Jasmine 75I’m not sure that Blue Jasmine is anything other than predictable and done-before, but that hardly matters, given how strong the characterization and cast are.

 

Blue-Jasmine 500

Cate Blanchett has long been one of my very favorite modern actresses, but she’s so good that it seems like most directors can’t quite figure out what to do with her, or at least she finds herself in roles that aren’t good enough for her. Thankfully, she’s also a fairly picky actress, and despite the two problems above, she doesn’t really find herself in bad films all that often. Still, it’s a pretty singular thrill when she gets a role she can really sink her teeth into (think the first Elizabeth, think The Aviator, think I’m Not There.), and as the lead in the new Woody Allen film, Blue Jasmine, she’s got the first role deserving of her talents that she’s had in years.

In Blue Jasmine, Blanchett plays a character named Jasmine, or so she says, who at the beginning of the film looks like a fish out of water trying to find her sister’s apartment in a somewhat seedy section of San Francisco. The plot alternates elegantly between the present time and the events that led up to Jasmine having to seek out her sister for help—we soon learn that Jasmine is/was a New York socialite with a wealthy husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin, playing the standard Alec Baldwin role as a smug and smarmy, rich man), with whom things fell apart, leading her to go to her sister’s to stay for a while and try to get back on her feet. Her sister is Ginger (Sally Hawkins), and they’re actually only adoptive sisters, and it shows; Ginger has none of the culture and class that Jasmine has, nor the money, and has two rugrats running around causing trouble and a succession of oafish, lumpen boyfriends (played by Andrew Dice Clay, Bobby Cannavale, and Louis C.K., all of whom are good here—yes, even ADC, whom I usually can’t stand). Ginger is intimidated somewhat by her more successful older sister (and brings up more than once how their adoptive parents liked to say that Jasmine had “better genes”), and Jasmine has some trouble adjusting to Ginger’s way of life, to say the least.

I’m not sure that Blue Jasmine is anything other than predictable and done-before, but that hardly matters, given how strong the characterization and cast are. This, of course, isn’t an uncommon thing for a Woody Allen movie, and as far as Woody movies go, this one is definitely my type—I tend to like his newer movies that he doesn’t act in himself the best. What’s more is that, even in this type of movie that Woody doesn’t appear as an actor in, he tends to have a surrogate in the film, who basically plays the Woody Allen character. The closest thing Blue Jasmine has to one of those is Jasmine herself, and Blanchett has proven so many times what a great imitator she is (see the aforementioned The Aviator for her as Kate Hepburn or I’m Not There as Bob Dylan) that it seems like this movie could have easily devolved into Blanchett playing Woody, which I doubt I would have liked as much as I like this. Instead, the combination of Blanchett and Allen makes for a new, fully-formed character that lands just outside of the typical Woody target and is a resounding success. Not that we should be surprised—that’s what happens when you pair up one of our greatest actresses with one of our greatest directors of actors. | Pete Timmermann

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