Getting out of Manhattan has been good for Woody Allen, with travelogues such as Match Point (London), Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and Midnight in Paris reinvigorating his work after a corrosive run in the mid-’90s. But last year’s disastrous To Rome With Love proved that pretty scenery has its limits for Allen, and he returns stateside for some domestic travel with the mostly San Francisco-set Blue Jasmine.
Eschewing his still-creepy penchant for ingenues, Allen casts a couple of adults in his lead roles here and powerhouses at that. Cate Blanchett stars as Jasmine, a well-bred former society wife recovering from the financial collapse and imprisonment of her crooked-investor ex-husband (Alec Baldwin). Dead broke and needing a fresh start, she moves west to live with her working-class adoptive sister Ginger (played by Mike Leigh fave Sally Hawkins; see Happy-Go-Lucky … please) until she can get a job and get back on her feet.
The disconnect between Jasmine’s sense of self and the reality of the world around her is so profound that it seems mental illness is at play as much as fish-out-of-water displacement. The model here, clearly, is Blanche DuBois from A Streetcar Named Desire, but given that Blanchett looks so much like a young Gena Rowlands and is one of the few modern screen actresses with the same chops, her performance also suggests Rowlands’ towering turn in A Woman Under the Influence.
Blanchett is spectacular, and Hawkins is, as always, an injection of freshness on the screen. Pairing them as siblings is brilliant casting. But the film they’re in isn’t quite worthy of their performances. The balance of comedy and drama is particularly wobbly here. And though there’s some interesting casting that yields surprising performances among the male cast (comedians Louis CK and an effectively underplaying Andrew Dice Clay; Bobby Cannavale), everything Allen knows about working-class men seems to come from reruns of The Honeymooners, an arm’s-length penchant for caricature that undercuts the film’s pretense toward social criticism.