The title character in Blue Jasmine should be awful, but Cate Blanchett gives her a sad, wounded nobility.
Jasmine is gradually losing her grip in a movie that could be titled A Streetcar Named Blue Jasmine. Like Blanche DuBois, Jasmine fled a failed marriage and moved in with her sister (Sally Hawkins), who lives in San Francisco in circumstances much less ritzy than Jasmine is used to (she had been married to a Bernie Madoff-like financier, played by Alec Baldwin).
Like Blanche, Jasmine clashes with her sister's uncouth partner. And, like Blanche, Jasmine sees a possible suitor slip through her grasp, sending her further along the road to madness.
(It should be noted that Blanchett played Blanche to rave reviews in a traveling production of Streetcar in 2009.)
There is humor in Blue Jasmine, but it is simultaneously one of Woody Allen's bleakest and most compassionate movies. Jasmine might be a figure of ridicule in another Allen film, but Blue Jasmine is keenly attuned to the truth of its title character's dilemma, which is that she cannot accept the reality of her life.
One of the best illustrations of this is a scene in which Jasmine prattles on about her hopes to her bewildered nephews, whom she speaks to as if they're high-society matrons. That scene might have seemed comic on paper, but as Blanchett plays it, it's deeply sad.
More than most of Allen's films, Blue Jasmine seems like a collaboration in which his star guided him to a deeper understanding of the character that he (and uncredited Tennessee Williams) created. I say that because Jasmine flails when Blanchett is not its focus. There are other good performances — Hawkins is bracing as Jasmine's sister, Ginger, as is Andrew "Dice" Clay as the sister's ex, Augie — but it remains clear that the privileged Allen has no idea how real people live today. We are supposed to think, for instance, that Hawkins' apartment is a hovel, but it's a roomy, sunny marvel that her cashier character could not possibly afford.
Luckily, Blanchett is in almost every scene of the film. "I'm a new person," she says when things are starting to look up. But, of course, her tragedy is that she cannot escape the person she has always been.
PG-13 for mature thematic material, language and sexual content. Sony Pictures Classics. 1:38. Hamburg, Kentucky.