When he’s on top of his game, Woody Allen can provide a welcome antidote during a summer overstuffed with big-budget sequels and superheroes.
Right on cue, the venerable filmmaker chimes in with Blue Jasmine, which finds Allen’s trademark rich characters and witty dialogue enhanced by a terrific performance from Cate Blanchett in the title role.
Continuing the world travels that have driven the past decade or so of his career, Allen this time sets the bulk of his story in San Francisco, where neurotic Jasmine winds up with her life in shambles in order to start her life over by moving in with her estranged sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins).
Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that Jasmine has become cynical and spoiled after her social-climbing marriage fell apart to a crooked New York financier (Alec Baldwin) and she subsequently experienced a nervous breakdown.
As Jasmine struggles to adjust to working-class life and is reluctant when it comes to romance, Ginger is experiencing problems of her own. She’s a single mother working a job as a grocery clerk after splitting with her handyman husband (a surprising Andrew Dice Clay) and instead trying a relationship with a short-tempered guy (Bobby Cannavale) who is constantly at odds with Jasmine.
Blue Jasmine clearly takes inspiration from “A Streetcar Named Desire,” exploring issues of socioeconomic class and the fickle nature of snobbery and affluence though the dynamics of the dysfunctional family at its core.
With Jasmine involved in almost every scene, Blanchett brings texture and depth to a complex role. Her troubled character is overbearing and obnoxious on the surface, among other things, yet Blanchett gives her a sympathetic vulnerability and an offbeat charm. It’s the latest in a long line of memorable female characters in the Allen canon.
The script unfolds with a jumbled chronological structure that gradually reveals background details without feeling manipulative. The filmmaker also achieves a nice balance between lightweight comedy and more serious moments of domestic drama. Plus, Allen’s obligatory jazz soundtrack again seems an ideal fit, and smartly incorporates Bay Area landscapes.
The complicated relationship issues involving redemption and reconciliation seem like familiar territory for Allen, but here he puts a fresh and slightly humorous spin on well-worn themes that also resonates with emotional power.
Rated PG-13, 98 minutes.