She’s come undone. The title of the Wally Lamb novel about a woman over the edge kept running through my mind as I watched Woody Allen’s new film “Blue Jasmine.”
There’s just no better way to put it. Jasmine, in such a paralyzing state of denial and played with such broken vulnerability by Cate Blanchett, is coming completely undone.
It is Allen’s bleakest drama ever.
Jasmine’s unraveling becomes the conduit for a stinging ironic jab at the Bernie Madoffs of the world and their particular brand of greed. Jasmine was married to one of them, and the question of how much she knew is significant.
Yet for all of “Blue Jasmine’s” darkness, the movie is among the filmmaker’s most emotionally affecting. Allen is surprisingly sensitive in exposing Jasmine, one of those affluent New York sophisticates so easy to dislike. Even the melodrama attached to her new struggles — a suddenly empty bank account, a mindless job, no closet space — realities that frame everyday life for most women, is subtly calibrated to allow us to feel for her. And occasionally laugh at the absurdity of it all.
Women and their neuroses have long been one of Allen’s strong suits. The writer-director’s juicy, complex roles have earned Oscars for a string of actresses: Diane Keaton in “Annie Hall,” Dianne Wiest in “Hannah and Her Sisters” and “Bullets Over Broadway,” Penelope Cruz for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” Even one of his lesser films, “Mighty Aphrodite,” made Mira Sorvino an Oscar winner.
“Blue Jasmine” could well do the same for Blanchett.
As many indelible roles as the Aussie actress has already had in her career — Queen Elizabeth I, twice; Galadriel in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “The Hobbit”; the iconic Katharine Hepburn in “The Aviator,” which won her a supporting actress Oscar — Blanchett reaches new depths in portraying great weakness. For all that Jasmine has done, all the hurt for which she is responsible, we don’t want her to break.
The whys of Jasmine’s slow dissolve into delusion unfold over the course of the film, though there are clues from the start. The plane ride to her new life in San Francisco has her seatmate caught in the slipstream of Jasmine’s memories. It helps set up many of the film’s moral quandaries as well as the patter that is Jasmine’s default for navigating sticky social situations. The truth and the lies so seamlessly blend that even she loses track.
The memories always get to a mention of “Blue Moon.” The song was playing when she first met her handsome husband, and the line “you saw me standing alone” gains poignancy as the film goes on. The questions about her husband’s crimes and misdemeanors also gain intensity.
A pitch-perfect Alec Baldwin portrays the charismatic Hal, a successful investment broker with many indiscretions. He is the architect of her rise and the reason for her fall.
The film moves between Jasmine’s various realities with a kind of natural ease, helped no doubt by the long tenure of the director’s crew: production designer Santo Loquasto, editor Alisa Lepselter, costume designer Suzy Benzinger, casting directors Juliet Taylor and Patricia DiCerto, plus a relative newcomer, cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe, who shot “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.”
Allen has given us a protagonist driven by many of the same demons he’s explored in other, earlier morality tales. In “Blue Jasmine,” the fable is a twisted version of trickle-down economics restaged, reconsidered. Jasmine’s excesses he may forgive, the end leaves room for debate. Wall Street’s he does not.
* * * *
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Alden Ehrenreich, Andrew Dice Clay, Bobby Cannavale, Louis C.K., Peter Sarsgaard
Director: Woody Allen
Running time: 1:38
Rated: PG-13; mature thematic material, language and sexual content