Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine isn't so much a fish-out-of-water movie; it's a horse-with-a-broken-leg-in-water movie. You know how this thing's going to end.
Cate Blanchett's Jasmine is a rarefied, half-delusional socialite tossed roughly down the slopes of her husband's financial pyramid scheme after he is arrested. She lands in a strangely Bronx Guido version of San Francisco inhabited by her low-rent sister Ginger (played with wonderful sympathy by Sally Hawkins).
Blanchett's performance is fascinating. She's an Ingmar Bergman figure yanked straight out of Tennessee Williams: brittle, high-bred, well-guarded against reality but wretchedly vulnerable, snapping back and forth between high-class snob and raving drunk. Blanchett can, in the span of seconds, transform her face from well-composed regality into a grim slur. Her mouth droops on one side, and the skin under her eyes loses its elasticity.
Jasmine adapts to the poor life, needless to say, badly.
Blanchett's often-harrowing portrait bumps heads with a loose screwball comedy of no-manners. She is groped by a bumbling dentist and trades insults with Ginger's goombah fiance Chili (Bobby Canavale), who pulls phones out of walls when he's mad and thinks Jasmine is a phony. Andrew Dice Clay, as Ginger's angry ex-husband, is granted a righteous moral conscience: He's the 99 percent, angry at the 1 percent who (quite literally) stole his money.
In an effective side plot, Louis C.K. plays a seemingly self-effacing stereo technician who briefly steals Ginger away from Chili. C.K., it should be noticed, also picked up Allen's old film editor, the incomparable Susan E. Morse, for his show Louie. Maybe Allen should steal her back. Because while Louie drifts beautifully between absurdity and sentimentality, Blue Jasmine is unable to reconcile its broad comedy and pathos into coherence. The schematic editing often makes the film as brittle as its main character.
All the more impressive, then, that Hawkins' and Blanchett's twinned performances still manage to pick up most of the pieces. And all the stranger for Allen that he managed to create two fully formed female characters in a world of one-dimensional men, rather than the reverse.
Critic's Grade: B
SEE IT: Blue Jasmine is rated PG-13. It opens Friday at Fox Tower.