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Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013 03:00 pm

Jasmine finds Blanchett in full bloom

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I always look forward to Woody Allen’s annual movie if for no other reason than to hear his witty dialogue performed by whatever top-notch cast he’s happened to assemble. Very few writers are able to capture the sound of true conversation as he does and the performers in his films seem to rise to the occasion, thankful to have the opportunity to work with a script that’s far better and more genuine than most that cross their path.

His latest, Blue Jasmine, is not on par with some of his recent efforts (Midnight in Paris, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) but it’s better than some of his subpar films such as Whatever Works and To Rome with Love. Call it middle-of-the-road Woody, which is still better than most of the other tripe that clutters the multiplex. An update of A Streetcar Named Desire, the movie is a character study of a woman who finds herself adrift in a world she doesn’t understand and can no longer function in.

Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) is a trophy wife who suddenly finds herself without a mantel to sit upon. Her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) has been arrested and jailed for pulling a Bernie Madoff-like scheme. Suddenly, Jasmine’s days of shopping on Fifth Avenue, residing in her Park Avenue townhouse, vacationing in the Hamptons and having three-martini lunches with her vacuous socialite friends are a thing of the past. With no place to go she’s forced to move cross-country to San Francisco and move in with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), an uneducated, blue collar worker with a good heart and no class.

The tension between the two is immediate as Jasmine looks down on Ginger’s way of life, her boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) and her modest plans for the future. With no choice but to try and acclimate to this low-rent world, she takes a job as a receptionist in a dentist’s office – which ends in disaster – and has the good fortune of crossing paths with a rich widower (Peter Sarsgaard) who may prove to be her salvation.

This is the rare Allen film that’s uneven in tone and suffers from pacing problems. Told mostly in flashback – as if to mirror Jasmine’s increasingly fractured mind – the movie struggles to achieve some sort of consistent pace. While there are some inherently funny situations, what with Jasmine shrinking in horror at the commonness that surrounds her, they’re of the hit-and-miss variety and come off as a bit hollow in light of our heroine’s plight. The choppy nature of the story and lack of narrative momentum prevent the film from being one of Allen’s finer works.

However, it does contain some of the best performances seen in one of the director’s works of late. Blanchett is dynamite in the title role, vulnerable, abhorrent, frightening, haughty and ultimately sympathetic. That we come to care for this damaged, clueless woman is a testament to the actress’ ability to remind us of her vulnerability throughout. Baldwin and Hawkins are fine as well but the major surprise here comes from Andrew Dice Clay as Ginger’s ex-husband who’s lost his life savings in one of Hal’s schemes. It’s no surprise that the actor can fully inhabit this working class Joe, but the pathos he brings to this man is a revelation and is a testament once more to Allen’s unerring eye toward casting. As I say, this won’t rank with the director’s best but as a showcase of fine acting, there have been few films this year that can match the work of this fine ensemble.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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