Want to see great acting, from comic to tragic and every electrifying stop in between? See Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine. Woody Allen, in rare form, puts Blanchett front and center in this hommage to Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, spinning hilarious but mostly harsh truths about love in the time of financial cholera. That’d be now.
Blanchett plays Jasmine, who fancies herself the glamorous type, much like Blanche DuBois in Streetcar. Jasmine is married to Hal (Alec Baldwin), a Bernie Madoff-like financier who puts Jasmine in two chic pumpkin shells, one on Park Avenue, the other in the Hamptons, places where she’s morally blind to his misdeeds. Until, well, she isn’t blind anymore.
Talking to herself and gobbling Xanax with a vodka chaser, Jasmine is melting down. She flees to the cramped San Francisco apartment of Ginger (Sally Hawkins is the definition of wonderful), the adopted sister Jasmine had dismissed as a loser.
Allen deftly uses flashbacks to fill us in on the backstories. Remember Stanley Kowalski, the crude cave man Marlon Brando created in Streetcar? Ginger has two of them. First is Augie (a shockingly effective Andrew Dice Clay), Ginger’s ex-husband and father of her two sons. Then there’s Chili (the ever-superb Bobby Cannavale), her new boyfriend cut from the animal mold. In Streetcar, Blanche tells her sister, “Don’t hang back with the brutes.” Jasmine doesn’t utter those words. She doesn’t have to: Blanchett’s eyes say it all. Both women look for a savior. Ginger dates up with the seemingly sympathetic Al (Louis C.K., nailing every nuance). Jasmine reaches out to Dwight (the excellent Peter Sarsgaard), a diplomat with a political agenda for which Jasmine is well suited – until her past looms. Allen sends out each laugh about money and class with a sting in its tail.
Blanchett, who has played Blanche in Streetcar onstage, is the film’s glory. She is miraculous at finding the bruised heart of this bullying elitist. If her struggle doesn’t win respect, it does earn our empathy. The sight of Jasmine – lost, alone and unable to conjure magic out of unyielding reality – is devastating. This is Blanchett triumphant, and not to be missed.