“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.