Woody Allen decisively hits the reset button with “Blue Jasmine,” a devastating drama about a woman falling apart after all the lies she tells herself stop working.
Returning to the honest emotional territory of his “Hannah and Her Sisters”/ “Husbands and Wives” period, Allen provides a great showcase for Cate Blanchett and then spreads the wealth among a cast of returning regulars and a shockingly great Andrew Dice Clay.
At first glance, Jasmine looks like most other Allen stand-ins — a self-absorbed, neurotic motormouth annoying her seatmate on a flight from New York to San Francisco — but it soon becomes clear that her constant monologue is a barely effective defense mechanism. Jasmine is accustomed to the finer things in life, but all that is left are the Chanel outfits in her bags.
As told through flashbacks and Jasmine's half-believing recollections, her husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), a Bernie Madoff-like high-end swindler, cheated hundreds of people and met a rough end, and now she must rely on her working-class sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), one of Hal's victims, for a place to live.
Jasmine still thinks she is the belle of the ball and treats Ginger, her kids and her boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale) like rabble. Ginger is almost impossibly forgiving of her haughty sister, given that Hal's schemes destroyed Ginger's savings and her marriage to Augie (Clay), a rough guy with a tender heart. And Jasmine's detachment and delusion makes her nearly unemployable and a terrible dating prospect — her budding relationship with a diplomat (Peter Saarsgard) is built on so many lies that viewers might wonder if the romance is a figment.
Blanchett plays Jasmine as a modern Blanche DuBois with a touch of Jackie Siegel, the pampered trophy wife from the 2012 documentary “The Queen of Versailles” who could barely process the truth of her husband's crumbling real estate empire. It is a sweaty, unnerving performance, and Blanchett penetrates completely into her ravaged character. But Allen fills this story with fleshed-out characters, giving talented actors (including Louis C.K.) some standout moments.
But there's no question that Clay's performance is the biggest revelation in “Blue Jasmine.” Allen reportedly cast Clay based on his appearance in the final season of “Entourage,” but the shock comic's work in this film is far more empathetic and deeply felt than any of his previous work might indicate. It is a testament to Allen's insight that he saw such potential in Clay.
Blanchett and Allen are central to the deep sense of unraveling in “Blue Jasmine,” but it's the surprise of Clay's performance that delivers the unexpected gut punch.
— George Lang