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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.

Blue Jasmine

“Blue Jasmine” also acts as a class critique, which is where the film falters. Allen knows the Manhattan upper-class scene like the back of his hand. The flashback sequences with Blanchett and Baldwin as beautiful socialites have a sharp, observant authenticity. The scenes set in present-day San Francisco, however, are oddly off.

Allen’s characterization of working-class people plays as mildly exploitative. Ginger’s first husband, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), is a Jersey Boy type, while Cannavale as her current boyfriend Chili is a more hyperbolic, stereotypical version of Augie. Slicked hair, tight t-shirts, artificially tanned skin and New Yawkuh accents for both of these characters reveal a lack of imagination on Allen’s part but also a strangely off-kilter sense of place. Both Augie and Chili are coded as East Coast -- uncultured meatheads played for laughs -- yet they’re Bay Area residents.

Meanwhile, Ginger is a divorced single mother, and grocery bagger, living in a sprawling San Francisco apartment. No matter how often Jasmine glares down her nose at her sister’s supposedly squalid abode, we aren’t convinced that the bohemian-chic and spacious flat is the home of someone struggling to make ends meet.

These aspects ultimately seem careless in a film that in many ways is impressively dark and nuanced. In his later films, Allen struggles with supporting roles. A lead character -- such as Blanchett here -- is fleshed out, three-dimensional and often winningly rich with the signature neuroses and insecurities that Allen has made a lifelong obsession. Yet smaller characters are tossed off and inconsistent -- both the talented Michael Stuhlbarg and Louis C.K. are given fairly thankless roles in the film -- while observations about cultural environments have a tourist-like superficiality.

Blanchett’s wonderfully unwieldy character in “Blue Jasmine” has tasted the highs and lows of what life has to offer, and simmers with volatile frustration and pathos. I can’t help but share a bit of her frustration. Much of “Blue Jasmine” is very good -- why must it be so uneven?

"Blue Jasmine" hits theaters July 26, via Sony Pictures Classics.

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.