Running Time:  98 mins.                      Rating: x Stars/5 Stars

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Woody Allen

Genre: Drama

Country: USA

Language: English

Distributor: Sony Classics

Cast: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Andrew Dice Clay, Bobby Cannavale, Louis C.K., Peter Sarsgaard, Tammy Blanchard, Max Casella, Michael Stuhlbarg


Nowadays nobody can best Woody Allen’s exercising his considerable skills within the comedy-of-manner genre.  Comedies of manners, originated in ancient Greece, were continued by Shakespeare with “As You Like It,” flourishing during the Restoration period with Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 17th Century “The Rivals,” and brought to an apotheosis by Oscar Wilde with “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

Such works are concerned either with the trivialities of the upper-middle class or with the nexus of various social classes.  But where Oscar Wilde used stock characters with deliberately stilted dialogue, Allen is right up to date with believable personae, whose shenanigans recall the case of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.  What’s more, Allen knows how to pick performers.  There’s every reason to believe that Cate Blanchett could easily match the talent of Evelyn Millard and Irene Vanbrugh, who in 1895 played Cecily Cardew and Gwendolyn Fairfax in “Earnest” while Alec Baldwin would not fare badly when compared with that play’s Allan Aynesworth as Algernon Montcrief.

At home particularly with the ploys and machinations of America’s upper middle class, Allen anchors BLUE JASMINE with Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), a woman well beyond the verge of a nervous breakdown.  She has gone through the terrors of a psychiatric break, guzzles Xanax and Vodka though neither seems to calm her down, but has herself largely to blame in losing the rewards of trophy wife to financier Hal (Alec Baldwin).

What could be confusing to many in the audience and, what I think is the movie’s chief problem, is that the tale is told in a circular fashion.  Woody Allen appears to have enough faith in audience comprehension to avoid subtitles such as “two years earlier,” “the present day,” or “not long ago.”  Much clearer are the chronological shifts in the writer-director’s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, which featured screenwriter Gil Pender’s retreat to the past each day at midnight.  I find no reason to discard conventional storytelling here.

That’s too bad, because everything else works beautifully: the elegant production design, the flawless editing, the jazzy soundtrack, and most of all the expertise of wonderful actors, particularly Cate Blanchett, whose character Jasmine was living the good life in New York until, resulting from circumstances made clear later in the story, she goes completely bust.  Her high social class, which leads to relationships with various classy men such as Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), a wealthy diplomat about to run for Congress, is contrasted with that of her adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), whose time is spent with lower-middle class husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) and boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale).

The parts are even greater than the whole.  Among the skits, watch for the scene that finds Jasmine, eager for a job but having no experience, becoming flustered while working as a dentist’s receptionist.  When Dr. Flicker (Michael Stuhlbarg) hits on her, using the line “Have you even gotten high on nitrous oxide?”, the ensuing struggle is a comic gem.

It’s still early in 2013 but Cate Blanchett may have wrapped up Best Actress nominations, and watch for Sally Hawkins on the awards circuit for her solid supporting role.


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