FFWD REW

Woody Allen tackles the financial crisis with fury anger and a dose of sympathy

Blue Jasmine revels in the main characters diminished position

Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen’s saddest wickedest film in a long while a snobs versus slobs “comedy” that skewers class and relationships in the rawest most calculated way possible. After his recent European excursions it’s great to find him comfortably back home in New York (by way of San Francisco) among the dreamers and neurotics he catalogues so precisely.

Rich New York socialite Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) has arrived in San Francisco to crash with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) after her privileged life has catastrophically imploded. Her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) a wealthy investment banker has recently gone to prison for theft and embezzlement. Broke and adrift she ends up living with Ginger and nurturing vague dreams about a career and school. She’s never worked a day in her life and is totally incapable of living a non-pampered existence. She’s a snobby awful human being.

She’s reluctantly introduced back into her sister’s life clashing with Ginger’s boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) a rough blue-collar mechanic and ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay; no seriously) who’s none too happy to meet the woman who stole his small fortune. After winning some money in the lottery he gave it to Hal to invest. As happened to many many others his small life savings were stolen and disappeared into the ugly and criminal world of investment banking.

The film flips back and forth in time detailing Jasmine’s life pre-financial meltdown. She revels in opulence while looking the other way as her husband’s shady and philandering secrets become too difficult to ignore. Ginger is struggling with a bit of a con game of her own two-timing Chili with a more eligible suitor (the always genuine schlubby Louis C.K.). Later Jasmine sees a way out of her predicament by latching onto Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) a wealthy foreign diplomat. (Yeah kind of ridiculous but it’s necessary movie logic.)

Blanchett does a fantastic job as a vile bourgeois snake stripped of her class and fortune. She’s in full drunk and crazy mode here with runny eyeliner insane mutterings and frequent outbursts. Think Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence . (Actually the movie feels like A Streetcar Named Desire by way of John Cassavetes.) The rest of the cast is pitch perfect too — Baldwin plays well Baldwin (like his character in 30 Rock he just looks the part of a fatuous scummy banker-type); the Dice has finally grown into a role he was born to play and play well; and Hawkins is goofy and vulnerable in equal measure.

Blue Jasmine relies on a simple binary of good versus evil rich versus poor and occasionally slips into emotionally worn territory. There’s no question where Allen’s sympathies lie — as stereotypically buffoonish and inarticulate as the “slobs” are (though not too bad — Allen isn’t overly condescending here) they’re the ones with the integrity and kindness. They’re far far removed from the world of the idle rich who obsess in the film over meticulously planned dinner parties and appear to be constantly working on their perfect pro-nun-ci-a-tion.

Sure not all disgustingly rich investment bankers are scumbags and not all middle-class people are decent and hardworking. But that’s not the story we want to hear about right now. Financially things are sick and out of control and sometimes things are simply good and bad. Nuance has no place in this film. Jasmine’s story doesn’t end well and Allen is merciless in his judgment. You can feel the wrathful glee he finds in sticking her under the pin and it can be a little much. It’s his best flick in years and well worth checking out. Maybe just once however. Unlike his other bittersweet tales this one’s probably too painful for a second viewing.

BLUE JASMINE directed by Woody Allen stars Cate Blanchett Alec Baldwin and Sally Hawkins. It opens Friday August 16. Check listings.

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