When we first meet Jasmine, shes a talkaholic on a plane.
By STEVE PAUL
The Kansas City Star
In the opening scene of Woody Allens Blue Jasmine, Cate Blanchett as his golden-haired and white-sweatered title character commands the moment. Too bad for the nice woman trapped in the next seat who has to listen to her. Perfect for those of us in the movie audience, who get a sense that were in for a manic and gripping journey.
We soon learn that Jasmine, born Jeanette, is on a westward spiral from her Park Avenue high life to her sisters downscale San Francisco apartment, where shell crash for the coming months. And crash she does.
Allens 45th feature movie as writer/director is quietly mesmerizing. Its a standout production in his hit-and-miss career, though it echoes with familiar Allen tropes.
You know the stuff: husbands and wives, crimes and misdemeanors, love and death. Theres the amber-lighted dinner-party scene, the musical nod to Dixieland, the deep-talk walk on a beach, the chance encounter that blossoms into something like love. To all that you can add another frequent Allen refrain: regrets and lies the kinds we tell others and the kinds we tell ourselves.
Blanchetts Jasmine is another in a long line of Allens blond obsessions. She has bits and pieces of any number of his late-70s heroines. Shes at least one of his Melindas (Melinda and Melinda, 2004), magnified and even more opalescent-skinned and fragile.
Triggering Jasmines flight from New York to California is the burst-balloon of her husband, Hals, real-estate empire. Hal (a one-dimensional Alec Baldwin) has the whiff of a younger Bernie Madoff. His downward spiral and its incremental effects on Jasmine unspool in periodic flashbacks.
When Jasmine doesnt want to know something, her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), says, she has a habit of looking the other way.
When the truth starts spilling, their son, Danny, disappears from Harvard in shame, and Jasmine sells her furs and begins staring down her demons.
In San Francisco, Jasmine cant quite decide what to do with herself. A career in interior design beckons, but before taking an online class she has to learn how to use a computer. Someone hooks her up with a job as a dentists receptionist, but that gig goes badly (its not all her fault).
Jasmine and her vodka-and-pills panics upend Gingers life. Ginger has two boys, though Jasmine never seems to learn their names. Jasmine is always berating Ginger and her current boyfriend, Chili (a terrifically complex Bobby Cannavale), over his grease-monkey existence and her lack of ambition in the life-partner department. With his badly slicked hair, Chili is brimming with restrained rage and a brutes almost-tearful sensitivity.
Hawkins stands out as the awkwardly jangly Ginger; you feel for her and her predicament (and hope that she earns an Oscar nomination to go along with Blanchetts). Soon she alights on a sweet new fling with a smooth-talking audio engineer (a soft-spoken Louis C.K.), who, like almost everyone else in this downbeat movie, proves capable of betrayal.
When Jasmine meets a dashing widower, Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), and he invites her to decorate his Marin County manse, her life brightens.
But, of course, not for long.
Gingers ex, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), brings Jasmine and Dwight unexpected news, setting off another, last down spin.
In the midst of that, we watch Jasmine confront and perhaps accept the realization that she may, indeed, have engineered her own train wreck.
On the Woody-ometer matrix, Blue Jasmine registers low on the comic scale and near the top of the searingly human. It has a few rough edges, including some awkwardly unnatural dialogue. And its almost wholly dependent on Blanchetts woman-on-the-verge performance.
Allen (and cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe) lingers on Jasmines awakenings as well as her puffy-eyed angst, zooming in to far more close-ups than we usually see in his movies arms-length, stage-set framing.
More than once Jasmine fondly recalls the soundtrack of her former life, the melody of Rodgers and Harts Blue Moon. You never hear the words in Blue Jasmine, but you certainly feel them: You saw me standing alone/ Without a dream in my heart/ Without a love of my own.
Another pair of Allen themes: desires and discontents.
Steve Paul, senior writer and arts editor, 816-234-4762, firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter: @sbpaul.