Blue Jasmine reminds me quite a lot of Celebrity, writer/director Woody Allen‘s 1998 trainwreck of a film casting another actor (Kenneth Branagh) in Allen’s trademark role with mixed results. Allen’s latest is noteworthy for the terrific performance of Cate Blanchett as the female version of Allen’s hopelessly paranoid and neurotic character. Blanchett is amazing as Jasmine, but unlike Allen who was able to consistently charm his way through such portrayals, Jasmine’s cynicism cuts like a knife forcing audiences to keep their distance and never embrace the character in the way the film needs to ultimately succeed. Blanchett might be terrific, but the script give us no reason to care about what happens to her.
Despite loosing her fortune and marriage due to her husband’s (Alec Baldwin) shady business dealings and womanizing, it’s impossible to see the self-obsessed Jasmine as anything approaching a legitimate victim. There’s little reason to feel sorry for the oblivious and neurotic Jasmine, nor is there reason to hate or take joy in her fall from grace. All she can earn is our pity.
Jasmine’s far more grounded sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), who Jasmine temporarily moves in with to get back on her feet, is constantly overshadowed by her sister’s theatrics. Despite being a working single mother (whose kids are nothing more than plot devices that disappear for ridiculous stretches with no thought as to what they might be up to) with plenty of complications in her life, Ginger is equally hard to get a bead on as there is more than a little truth behind Jasmine’s harsh criticism of her sister’s tendancy to consistently settle for less than she’s worth such as her former (Andrew Dice Clay) and current (Bobby Cannavale, Louis C.K.) choice in men.
The story jumps back and forth comparing the luxury of Jasmine’s former life to her current situation of trying to learn about computers (in an unbelievably backward classroom setting that my grandmother could have taught) in order to later study interior decorating online (in a punchless joke that keeps being thrown despite never landing anywhere close to the mark). There’s even a subplot about Jasmine’s burgeoning relationship with a rich entrepreneur (Peter Sarsgaard) which might have been interesting if it hadn’t been so obvious how it would end.
At his best Allen can offer both comedic and dramatic genius (sometimes even at the same time), but Blue Jasmine is hardly one of Allen’s best. A great cast, and a wonderful performance by Blanchett, are wasted on a story that has nowhere to go and whose journey isn’t even all that interesting.