by Michael Walters
The Cantankerous Critic
After a summer of increasingly stale popcorn fare, Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” is something of a breath of fresh air. Cate Blanchett gives one of the best performances of her career as the boozing wife of a Bernie Madoff-style swindler (Alec Baldwin), who must adjust to real life when she loses everything.
She leaves the bright lights of Manhattan for the hills of San Francisco, where she moves in with her working-class sister (Sally Hawkins) to start a new life.
The movie is remarkable for how un-Woody-like it feels. It’s something approaching genuinely new territory for the Wood-man. His dialogue is free from the usual 70′s psychobabble about analysis, while retaining his flair for a turn of the phrase. Aside from his trademark jazz on the soundtrack and the opening titles, there’s little here that’s done before.
He’s written a refreshingly unsympathetic character for Blanchett, who nevertheless remains mesmerizing throughout. Hawkins nearly matches Blanchett with a far less showy, but no less emotionally powerful performance as the grocery store clerk with a weakness for Stanley Kowalski types (Andrew Dice Clay in a remarkably competent role).
Blanchett, however, tries to push her in the direction of a schlubby but well-mannered stereo technician (Louis C.K.). Her attempts to start over lead her into the path of a dentist who’d like to examine more than just her teeth (Michael Stuhlbarg), and a widowed diplomat (Peter Saarsgaard).
“Blue Jasmine” is full of emotionally complex characters in a fascinating melodrama that may have more than a few shades of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” It’s essentially the serious Woody entry in his late career Renaissance.
Frankly, after more than 40 years in the movie business I never dreamed Woody had something like this left in him.