Imagine Woody Allen cozying up to blue-collar workers - making them wiser and warmer than callow upper-class sophisticates.
I can't think of another film in the Wood-Man's career that functions in quite this way; but "Blue Jasmine" does it brilliantly - and then some.
This 43rd Allen feature is among his best in years: utterly absorbing; beautifully written; crammed with strong, surprising performances; scintillating in its moral stance - yet deep and richly nuanced as well.
Cate Blanchett is shown in a scene from Woody Allen’s new film, “Blue Jasmine.” Sun-Gazette Movie Critic Joseph W. Smith III hails the picture as “among his best in years.”
In a role that may well net an Oscar, Cate Blanchett plays a middle-aged high-lifer who crashes when her rich husband is jailed for financial chicanery.
It's a performance worthy of Meryl Streep, ranging through every imaginable emotion - often several in a few brief moments; and somehow Blanchett renders Jasmine both contemptible and sympathetic.
This is a woman who's all surface - her whole life a slick and handsome charade. When it comes apart, she has no idea who she is; and the more it shreds, the more desperately she clings to her ludicrous superficiality. But Jasmine's neuroses are hurting others too.
She's moved in with her younger sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins, in another Oscar-bait performance) - who struggles as a divorced mother working in a grocery and seeking modest happiness with Chili, her decidedly blue-collar boyfriend.
Jasmine convinces Ginger that this comical but charmingly devoted man is beneath her, and in the process derails Ginger's life as well.
Scenes in which Ginger's beer-drinking buddies try warming up to Jasmine are painful and hilarious, greatly aided by excellent work from Bobby Cannavale as Chili and Max Casella as Chili's fumbling pal Eddie, who is crushing on Jasmine but too intimidated even to ask for her number.
Allen also gets first-class work from stand-up comics Andrew Dice Clay (playing Ginger's ex) and Louis CK as a sound engineer going after Ginger.
Clay, who scarcely has a single worthy film on his resume, is sober, empathetic and convincing, while the rookie CK comes on strong in a few short scenes. It's worth noting that there isn't a whiff of stand-up comedy in either of these fine performances.
Despite the raging emotions that run through many scenes, Allen takes a very light touch, imbuing overt melodrama with a guileless authenticity; except for one or two moments of fumbling sexuality, his own persona is nowhere to be found.
Even the laughs - which have sometimes felt strained in recent Allen outings - emerge organically from the characters and their vibrant interaction.
It's a dazzling script that will likely net Allen yet another Oscar nod (he holds a record 15 nominations for screenwriting).
I've watched so much shallow crap this summer that it felt like a revelation to sit through scenes so careful, so tender, so genuine and human; to see a director who is somehow able to judge his characters without condemning them; and to see a clear-sighted vision of both neurotic desolation and appealing hope.
***1/2 (out of four)
The film is rated PG-13 for language and sexuality.