Blue Jasmine

This bitter drama is essentially Woody Allen's update on Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire. In Blue Jasmine, Streetcar's deluded Blanche DuBois is reborn as Jeanette "Jasmine" French (Cate Blanchett), a broke and broken New Yorker who, after the imprisonment and death of her corrupt millionaire husband (Alec Baldwin), has relocated to a dull corner of San Francisco to live with her scruffy sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins of Happy-Go-Lucky fame). Bobby Cannavale rounds out the Streetcar trio as Ginger's Stanley Kowalski-esque boyfriend.

Dividing its time between Jasmine's increasingly desperate situation in the present day and her waning days in Park Avenue society some five or so years earlier, Blue Jasmine is one of Allen's odder efforts. Despite stunt casting of funnymen Andrew Dice Clay and Louis C.K. in joke-free roles, this film isn't a typical Allen ensemble piece so much as it is a vehicle for Blanchett's considerable talents. She absolutely owns this movie, and Allen knows it.

But even without any comedic episodes or eccentric supporting characters, Blue Jasmine still feels like it's a part of Allen's uniquely sheltered world view. Though it's one of his only American-set films to take place mostly outside of Manhattan, he populates San Francisco with a variety of distinctly New York voices. (Only Peter Sarsgaard, mostly wasted in a small role as one of Jasmine's suitors, actually sounds like he could be Californian.) And perhaps as part of Allen's typically brisk production process – writing and directing a feature film every year often leaves us with themes and ideas that another filmmaker might have taken more time to explore – we're given a number of juicy character details that are continually shrugged off, so that the focus of the story can return to Jasmine. Maybe that's Allen's point, since Jasmine is such a narcissist. Nevertheless, the script feels a little unpolished.

Blue Jasmine is still worth watching for Cate Blanchett, and if it's remembered at all come Oscar time, it will surely be for her sensational performance. It lacks the moral heft of, say, Match Point, and aside from wondering if the film might actually be a poison pen letter to Mia Farrow, I haven't thought much about it. Still, it's an interesting entry in the "Serious Woody Allen" subgenre.