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'Blue Jasmine' Review: Cate Blanchett Excels in Woody Allen's Uneven New Film as a Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (TRAILER)

Photo of Beth Hanna By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood July 17, 2013 at 2:06PM

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.
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Cate Blanchett in "Blue Jasmine"
Cate Blanchett in "Blue Jasmine"

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.

'Blue Jasmine'
'Blue Jasmine'

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.

This article is related to: Reviews, Reviews, Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen, Cate Blanchett


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.