Woody Allen's 'Blue Jasmine' falls from grandeur

The Fresno BeeAugust 21, 2013 

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Cate Blanchett in "Blue Jasmine."

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Woody Allen's latest film "Blue Jasmine" — the sobering tale of a fall from grandeur — travels such a similar path to Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire" that a better name for the film would have been "A Trolley Car Named Jasmine."

Jasmine's ride is not nearly as dramatic as Blanche DuBois' emotional deconstruction in "Streetcar," but her journey is made tolerable by an Oscar-worthy performance by Cate Blanchett.

Jasmine's always had the best in life, most of it purchased through the ill-gotten gains of her Wall Street husband (Alec Baldwin). When that money source dries up, Jasmine travels to San Francisco to move in with her middle-class, mousy sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). The living arrangement becomes strained and Jasmine is forced to enter a world of minimum-wage employment and monitored spending.

The biggest difference between emotionally devastated heroine in 'Streetcar' and Allen's central figure is that most of Jasmine's woes are of her own making. Blanche lost sight of reality; Jasmine prefers to ignore it. That makes Jasmine a far less sympathetic character and forces Blanchett to work to hold on to the audience.

She accomplishes this through wild swings of independence and dependence. Blanchett goes from playing Jasmine with surprising strength when confronted with blatant sexual harassment to quickly becoming the fool of her own making when she torpedoes a relationship with a series of lies.

Blanchett carries most of the acting load, but she's not alone. As is the case with many Allen movies, the director tends to get superb performances out of supporting players.

Andrew Dice Clay is especially effective as one of the casualties of Jasmine's twisted sense of reality. And, Bobby Cannavale turns in the performance of his career as the victim of Jasmine's unjustified arrogance.

Where Williams and Allen part ways is with humor. Williams wrapped his "Streetcar" characters in a cocoon of serious emotional angst. But Allen isn't afraid to insert a moment of dry wit into a scene, even if it disrupts the emotional pain. It's that use of humor that acts as a defense mechanism to keep the audiences from being pulled into the dark abyss at the heart of his characters.

Allen's biggest problem is that the emotional odyssey he sends Jasmine on runs out of steam before reaching a proper destination. This is a movie that's in desperate need of an ending that proves as illusive as Jasmine's attempts to regain the life of status she so deeply loves.

Any writing problems — such as the obvious illusions created by the flora names of the main characters — are overshadowed by Blanchett's amazing performance.

Movie review

"Blue Jasmine," rated PG-13 for mature themes, sexual content. Stars Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale, Peter Sarsgaard, Alec Baldwin. Directed by Woody Allen. Running time: 98 minutes. Grade: B
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TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, rbentley@fresnobee.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.

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