Blanchett illuminates Allen's 'Blue Jasmine'

Since 1977, Woody Allen has directed 16 performances that earned Oscar nominations for acting, including himself (“Annie Hall”) and two-time winner Dianne Wiest (“Hannah and Her Sisters” and “Bullets Over Broadway”).

Come spring, Cate Blanchett will surely be added to this list for her soul-shattering performance in Allen's latest movie, “Blue Jasmine.”

Sometimes misleadingly described as a “comedy-drama,” “Blue Jasmine” comes with a cast of gifted comic actors such as Sally Hawkins and Alec Baldwin along with stand-up comedians such as Louis C.K. and Andrew Dice Clay (the latter in a surprising, out-of-nowhere dramatic performance).

But the characters rarely, if ever, go for laughs.

Jasmine (Blanchett) has just split from her husband and has no money and nowhere to go. Her adopted sister Ginger (Hawkins) gamely agrees to let Jasmine stay for a little while in her San Francisco apartment.

Ginger is divorced, raising two kids and working in a food market. She's dating the kind but meatheaded Chili (Bobby Cannavale).

Jasmine tries to chase Chili away, insisting he's not good enough for Ginger. Subsequently, Ginger tries dating an audio installation man (Louis C.K.).

Meanwhile, Jasmine meets a handsome, single, wealthy man, Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) and imagines that her prayers are answered.

The rest of Jasmine's story is shown in flashbacks. Her husband, Hal (Baldwin), seems to be a benevolent and loving father and husband, but he's really a serial philanderer and a massive corporate cheat. The clues are right in front of Jasmine's face, but she willfully ignores them.

“Blue Jasmine” is Allen's first San Francisco movie since the days of “Take the Money and Run” (1969) and “Play It Again, Sam” (1972), and — with a few exceptions — he chooses some fairly picturesque, out-of-the-way places to shoot for maximum mood, including a bit of foggy desperation by the beach.

Allen layers the story with grace, and in his usual measured pace; even the smallest characters spring to life.

Though the movie belongs to Blanchett, Hawkins is equally superb, bringing great sympathy and soul to her character.

But Blanchett gives her best-ever performance, moving Jasmine back and forth on moody waves. She's alternately hopeful, shattered, nervous, selfish or shortsighted, often without self-awareness.

She can be difficult company, but she's so fully fleshed out that she eventually earns compassion. When she cracks, it's hard not to feel your heart cracking, too.


Blue Jasmine

Starring Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale

Written and directed by Woody Allen

Rated PG-13

Running time 1 hour, 38 minutes

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