His camera is mostly stationary and his scenes are static, still mostly driven by dialogue. And Woody Allen’s recent movies have betrayed his increasingly pronounced disconnect from modern mores, culture and speech.
So it’s tempting to dismiss his latest, “Blue Jasmine,” as a melodramatic exercise in stale and stodgy. He’s that old-fashioned.
But get past the chattiness of his heroine, the title character (Cate Blanchett). Yes, her name’s Jasmine. “I changed it. From Jeanette.”
Get past the pun in the title. Yes, she’s blue. Her husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), was a Wall Street wolf who got caught, lost their fortune, went to prison and left her alone, something she blabs to her fellow passenger on a first-class flight from New York to San Francisco.
Get past the fashion sense, the polished, patronizing accent, the temper, the weary lines Allen gives her. (“God, who do I have to sleep with around here to get a Stoli martini with a twist of lemon?”)
This is a brittle and brilliant performance, and Jasmine turns out to be one of Allen’s more interesting creations. In this flighty rich woman brought low – she’s had to move in with her grocery store cashier sister (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco – Allen makes a commentary on class and the way we all overdramatize our lives, lives that most of us only narrate in our heads.
Not Jasmine. She’s the first to blurt that she ignored the slippery dealings that Hal was making, but the last to realize how intellectually lazy her bourgeois life of charity events, shopping sprees and weekends in the Hamptons made her. There is but one quarrel with sister Ginger – “settling.” Ginger divorced one working-class oaf (Andrew Dice Clay) and seems anxious to marry another (Bobby Cannavale). Jasmine, the nervous, pill-popping chatterbox, passes judgment on that and keeps her teary eyes set on a higher prize.
Ginger’s friends suggest a job – as a dental office receptionist. “Too menial.”
She insists she’d rather return to school. To study what, nursing? “God, no.”
Allen toys around with this tired pizza-vs.-Prada conflict in flashbacks, showing Jasmine’s aloof removal from Ginger when she was rich, painting a picture of her “phony” lifestyle with her “liar and thief” of a husband.
The biggest statement here is about character, not class. The haves are liars and poseurs, the working folks may be loutish but are true blue. Allen stole that from a dozen melodramas of the 1930s. Jasmine fends off a groping-grabby dentist-boss (Michael Stuhlbarg from “A Serious Man”) and sets her cap for a wealthy State Department higher-up (Peter Sarsgaard), situations so retro they’re almost hip.
The reason to fall into “Blue Jasmine” is Blanchett’s cagey, broken turn. Here is a female match for Jay Gatsby, a woman as set on living a higher life and asking no questions about how it’s achieved as Fitzgerald’s anti-hero. Blanchett makes Jasmine the heroine of her own tragedy, refining her narration, polishing her predicament, wallowing in her doom but hell-bent on looking stylish in Chanel as she does.