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Photo by Merrick Morton - © 2013 Gravier Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

I’ve often disparaged films for denying us a character we can root for, but every rule has its exceptions, and if there’s anyone who can break the rules and get away with it, it’s Woody Allen. Blue Jasmine is a character study, and although its principal character is a mess, she’s utterly compelling, especially as played by Cate Blanchett. You may not be able to cheer her on, but you can’t take your eyes off of her.

We meet Blanchett at a low point in her life, as she arrives in San Francisco to stay with her half-sister (Sally Hawkins), unsure of her future and haunted—almost to the brink of madness—by her recent past as the pampered wife of a New York wheeler-dealer (Alec Baldwin). She’s moving in with her working-class sibling as a last resort because she’s flat broke and has nowhere else to go.

Allen’s circuitous narrative introduces Blanchett to a new set of people, well-drawn and vividly brought to life by Bobby Cannavale, Louis C.K., Michael Stuhlbarg, Peter Sarsgaard, and, in an especially eye-opening performance as Hawkins’ ex, Andrew Dice Clay.

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Photo by Merrick Morton - © 2013 Gravier Productions - Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Blanchett’s former life punctuates the film in a series of telling flashbacks, revealing her taste for expensive things and her overriding shallowness. She’d be worthy of nothing but scorn if she weren’t so pathetic, and that’s the fine line that filmmaker Allen and his leading lady walk so well. Blue Jasmine is a fascinating case study that primarily tells a good story, but also offers food for thought about ethics, morals, friendship, family, and our consumerist society. With Blanchett in the lead, and a superior cast surrounding her, Blue Jasmine offers supremely satisfying entertainment.