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With: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Andrew Dice Clay, Bobby Cannavale, Peter Sarsgaard, Louis C.K., Michael Stuhlbarg, Alden Ehrenreich, Max Casella, Joy Carlin
Written by: Woody Allen
Directed by: Woody Allen
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material, language and sexual content
Running Time: 98
Date: 07/25/2013

Blue Jasmine (2013)

3 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Aside from his own personal list of fifteen Oscar nominations (three wins) for Best Screenplay, and seven Oscar nominations (one win) for Best Director, Woody Allen has guided sixteen performances that resulted in Oscar nominations for acting, including himself for Best Actor (Annie Hall) and Dianne Wiest, who won twice, for Hannah and Her Sisters and Bullets Over Broadway.

I think that, come next spring, Cate Blanchett will be added to this list, for her soul-shattering performance in Allen's latest film, Blue Jasmine.

Blue Jasmine has been described as a "comedy/drama," which is misleading. It's especially confusing given that there are so many gifted comic actors in the cast, including Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, and stand-up comedians Louis C.K. and Andrew "Dice" Clay (the latter in a surprising, out-of-nowhere dramatic performance). In reality, it's a pure drama, with characters suffering, looking for happiness, nearly finding it, and suffering some more. Characters rarely, if ever, go for laughs.

Blanchett stars as Jasmine. As the movie begins, she is in a bad way. She has just split from her husband and has nowhere to go. Her adopted sister Ginger (Hawkins) has gamely agreed to let Jasmine stay for a little while in her San Francisco apartment.

Jasmine can't quite get used to not having any money. She arrives having flown first class and carries tons of bags, swilling the best vodka she can find. Ginger, on the other hand, is struggling. She's divorced, raising two kids, and working in a food market. She's dating Chili (Bobby Cannavale), a meathead who seems more like a New York character than a San Francisco one. At first, Chili is excited about meeting Ginger's family, but Jasmine's defeated, entitled attitude is a bringdown for all.

Jasmine tries to chase Chili away, insisting that he's not good enough for Ginger. She succeeds for a while, and Ginger tries dating an audio installation man (Louis C.K.). Meanwhile, Jasmine meets a handsome, single, wealthy man, Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) and imagines that her prayers are answered. But she gets off to a rocky start, when she tells him a few white lies about where she came from.

Where she came from is shown in flashbacks: Jasmine's husband Hal (Baldwin) seems to be a benevolent and loving father and husband, but it's soon revealed that he's a serial philanderer and a massive corporate cheat. The clues are right in front of Jasmine's face, but she willfully ignores them.

There's more to this soap opera, including the aforementioned "Dice" Clay as Ginger's ex-husband who shows up during a crucial moment and turns the movie around with his well-placed speech. Allen layers all these characters with grace and with his usual measured pace, and despite the presence of all these New Yorkers, even the smallest characters spring to three-dimensional life.

This also marks Allen's first San Francisco movie since the days of Take the Money and Run (1969) and Play It Again, Sam (1972), and -- with a few exceptions -- he chooses some fairly out-of-the-way places to shoot for maximum mood, including some foggy desperation by the beach. For Bay Area fans, some locations include the New Central Café on South Van Ness, an apartment on Rivera and 48th Ave., Claremont Blvd. near West Portal, Ocean Beach (with the Cliff House in the background), South Park, and a diamond shop on Grant Street.

Though the movie really belongs to Blanchett, I'd like to sing the praises of Hawkins for just a moment. Ginger is more or less upstaged by Jasmine, and may not be noticed, but Hawkins, likewise, gets to the soul of her character. In some ways, I had more sympathy for her, a hard worker longing for just a few simple things in life, and with an infectious smile.

Blanchett gives her best performance, ever. She paints her Jasmine in waves. She's both euphoric and shattered, sometimes sweating, sometimes looking like a million bucks. She's nervous, and selfish and short-sighted, but she doesn't know these things. She thinks she's a good and strong person, and she thinks she's helping. She's hard to be around, but she's so fully fleshed out that she eventually earns total sympathy. When she cracks, it's hard not to feel your heart cracking too.

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