“Allen and Blanchett Sing the Blues”

“Blue Jasmine”
Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin
Directed by Woody Allen

“One minute you’re on top of the world, the next, pfft.”
-Chili (Bobby Cannavale), “Blue Jasmine”

Life can change in an instant, and Chili’s perceptive observation pretty much sums up everything you need to know about his girlfriend’s emotionally unstable sister in “Blue Jasmine” – the 43rd (yes, 43rd!) feature film directed by the prolific Woody Allen, who also, of course, wrote the stinging, razor-sharp screenplay.

But that’s exactly what happened to Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), a delicate former New York socialite whose spectacular fall from grace throws her life into a dramatic tailspin. While she may never fully recover, watching her try makes for a compelling, unsettling and darkly comic character study about a woman deep in the throes of a psychological breakdown. It’s a complex role that features Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett (Best Supporting Actress for 2004’s “The Aviator”) in the performance of her career, while the film itself easily stands as the Wood-man’s best work since 2005’s “Match Point.”

Jasmine is a pampered snob who has lived her whole life defined by who she was with. For much of that time, that person was Hal (Alec Baldwin), a wealthy financial planner who gave her everything she could possibly want: a Park Avenue apartment, a home in the Hamptons, a jet-setting lifestyle – you name it, she had it.

But when Hal is busted for shady Bernie Madoff-style business practices, Jasmine loses everything, forcing her to move in with her estranged sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in her modest San Francisco apartment. But instead of being humbled by the experience, she continues to be the unwitting cause of her own downward spiral. It’s a downfall that will have no end in sight, at least not until she opens her eyes to the hard truths around her and takes responsibility for the consequences of her ignorance.

It’s a bleak, tragic and somewhat disturbing story, since Jasmine ends up not too far from where she started – as an unhinged, self-entitled, neurotic, pill-popping alcoholic who manages to alienate every last person who’s ever cared about her. She’s a mess for sure, but the genius of Blanchett’s haunting, tour-de-force performance lies with her ability to make her a vulnerable, sympathetic character that you can’t help but root for, even when she is not fully deserving of that compassion.

The film’s dual structure makes for a rewarding experience, as the story of Jasmine’s elegant, high-class lifestyle is told in conjunction with that of her humiliating downfall. In the former, she’s happy to reap the aristocratic rewards of her crooked (and unfaithful) husband, even when she suspects that there’s more to him than meets the eye.

In the latter, she struggles to reinvent herself, but without any marketable skills or real means of financial support, she’s in for a world of pain. She begrudgingly takes a job at a dentist’s office, where she is sexually harassed by her boss (Michael Stuhlbarg). She can barely stand her sister’s endearing new boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale), nor does she show any remorse to her sister’s ex-husband (Andrew Dice Clay), who lost everything after a bad investment. Then she lies through her teeth to catch the romantic eye of an aspiring politician (Peter Sarsgaard), who represents her last best hope to climb back to the perch of the glamorous life she once had.

Cate Blanchett’s incredible, far-ranging turn is the stuff that Oscar-worthy performances are made of, but the rest of the cast is also in top form, especially Andrew Dice Clay – a revelation in a serious, heartbreaking role that should do wonders to reinvent his career. And then there’s 77-year-old Woody Allen himself, a filmmaking legend who’s not only still at the top of his game, but after 43 movies, he’s still on top of the world.

-Scott Mantz