Woody goes against the grain in latest

Cate Blanchett and Alec Baldwin in Woody Allen’s ‘Blue Jasmine.’ 

By Ellen Futterman, Editor

Two things you might want to know before seeing Woody Allen’s captivating “Blue Jasmine”: 1. While there are funny bits throughout, the story is dark and fairly serious and 2. The Woodman, who wrote and directed the film, is not in it.

The other thing to bear in mind is that its namesake character, the film’s focal point, is not particularly likeable. But as portrayed by the magnificent Cate Blanchett, Jasmine is so fully realized and nuanced that it’s impossible not to be transfixed by her epic presence. Beneath a façade of Chanel, haughtiness and entitlement, Jasmine’s unraveling mental state bubbles to the surface, fueled in part by liberal helpings of Stoli and Xanax.

We first meet Jasmine on a plane, muttering to a stranger about her former rich life in Manhattan. Seems her high-financier husband (Alec Baldwin) pulled a Bernie Madoff, leaving her broke, disgraced and single. So with no marketable skills and even fewer options, the former socialite is forced to take refuge with her poor but welcoming sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) and Ginger’s two kids in their modest San Francisco apartment. 

The sisters, both adopted, are complete opposites. Whereas self-absorbed Jasmine (born Jeanette) exists in a world of self-delusion, plucky Ginger lives in the real world. She has a mundane grocery clerk job, an ex-husband (Andrew Dice Clay) with good reason to be bitter and an auto mechanic boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale), who butts heads with the pretentious Jasmine at every turn. It doesn’t help that she moved in with Ginger instead of him.

Qualified to do little else but shop, Jasmine finds unappealing work as a dental receptionist and takes a computer class in the hopes of getting a better job. When a classmate invites her to a swanky party, Jasmine meets a rich suitor (Peter Sarsgaard) who just might be the ticket back to her former life.

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The cast, uniformly, is terrific. Hawkins imbues her character with a resigned pleasantness — she’s the kind of person who’s happy for what she has rather than what she doesn’t, until uppity Jasmine comes along to point out the many shortcomings of Ginger’s life.

Both Dice Clay and Cannavale skillfully portray working stiffs who have plenty to gripe about while Baldwin, in a small role that unfolds in flashbacks, brings spot-on slime to his philandering fraud of a husband.

But the movie, hands-down, belongs to Blanchett and her tour-de-force performance. Long credited for writing meaty roles for women, including several that garnered the actresses playing them an Academy Award, Allen has created a true original in Jasmine — a mesmerizing mix of raw emotion, pain, narcissism, snobbery, neuroses and just plain crazy. It’s a testament to Allen’s dialogue and direction as well as Blanchett’s acting that in the end you almost feel empathy for the character.

Some critics have suggested that with “Blue Jasmine,” Allen took a page from Tennessee Williams, likening Jasmine to a modern-day Blanche DuBois. But the way I see it, the writer-director drew inspiration from that old Dorothy Parker line: “If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.”