Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” features a knock-down, drag-out performance by Cate Blanchett as an emotionally frayed housewife who, through a series of trying betrayals, is all washed up. The film itself doesn’t match Blanchett’s stunning commitment -- which is a pity, because in various ways it is one of Allen’s more unusual works in years.
Jasmine (Blanchett) has come to live with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), in San Francisco for a temporary amount of time while she gets back on her feet. As we learn in flashback structure, Jasmine was previously married to an exorbitantly wealthy businessman, Hal (Alec Baldwin), living a life of elegant finery, before Hal’s fraudulent business schemes were found out by the FBI and he was sent to prison, leaving Jasmine and Hal’s now estranged son (Alden Ehrenreich) penniless.
Jasmine, a tall, regal blonde, and Ginger, a cute, pint-sized brunette, are adopted sisters, which explains their physical dissimilarities. Their class differences are explained by a turning point in their adolescences: Ginger was less liked by their adoptive mother, and ran away at an early age, eking out her own living.
In San Francisco, Ginger waffles back and forth between staying with her meathead fiance, Chili (Bobby Cannavale). And Jasmine must get a job and reluctantly takes a position in a dental office, as she harbors ambitions of becoming an interior decorator. She eventually meets Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), a cultured diplomat living in the Bay Area, and through a few well-intentioned fibs that balloon into full-on lies, convinces him she’s a successful interior designer.
Oh, and one more thing: Jasmine is completely mentally unstable. Blanchett gives a ferociously unvarnished performance, deftly capturing the jittering, rambling, free-wheelingly self-absorbed fluctuations of an entitled woman on the verge -- hell, in the midst -- of a nervous breakdown. Jasmine’s M.O. is that she’ll begin a seemingly innocuous story -- necessarily about her past life -- that at a certain point will take a hairpin turn into the depths of her frittered subconscious.
She’ll be staring directly at her sister, but suddenly speaking to a Manhattan housewife she used to know, trembling and thrusting her voice into a low, lethal rumble. Like Blanche DuBois of "A Streetcar Named Desire" before her, she can move from lucidity to delusion at breakneck speed, sometimes within a scene, sometimes between scenes, a vertiginous pace that Blanchett keeps up believably.
The flashback structure of “Blue Jasmine” thus emerges both as a storytelling technique but also as a glitch in Jasmine’s ability to cope with the present. In that vein, this is a remarkably formally elegant film. Allen returns to cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe, who gave “Vicky Christina Barcelona” its rich visual sense of warmth and intimacy.