‘Blue Jasmine’ finds Woody Allen balancing comedy and drama

Here's the movie with Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins and Andrew Dice Clay you asked for. Credit: Sony Pictures Classics
Here’s the movie with Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins and Andrew Dice Clay you asked for.
Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

‘Blue Jasmine’
Director: Woody Allen
Stars: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins
Rating: PG-13
4 (out of 5) Globes

With a few significant exceptions (“Manhattan,” “Hannah and Her Sisters”), Woody Allen has maintained a thick wall separating his dramas from his comedies. He even once made a film, “Melinda and Melinda,” in which the same general story is told twice — once as an attempted comedy, once as an attempted drama. One of the most likable things about “Blue Jasmine,” his 43 1/3 directorial work, is that it’s never one or the other. The subject is serious, tracking the fall and potential rise of a disgraced Manhattan socialite (Cate Blanchett). But the tone wavers between drama and (light) comedy — not in a clumsy way but in the manner of a confident master who isn’t always this confident, but should be.

Blanchett’s Jasmine is first glimpsed talking an old lady’s ear off, first on a plane, then in baggage check. Her yammering only gradually seems like a joke as the sequence wears on. Only afterward does it become apparent it’s no joke: Jasmine has been presenting a watered-down version of the tragic events periodically glimpsed in flashback, which turn her into a helpless martyr. Sometimes she talks to no one.

The whole film walks that line between comedy and tragedy. After her moneyed husband (Alec Baldwin) is busted for Madoff-like shenanigans, the absolutely broke Jasmine flies — first class — to the meager San Francisco apartment of her poor sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). While trying to start anew, first by finding work, then by trying to find another sugar daddy, her ambitious streak rubs off on Ginger, who has a thing for blue collar palookas, played by Andrew Dice Clay and Bobby Cannavale.

That Andrew Dice Clay is a) in a Woody Allen film, b) playing Sally Hawkins’ husband (in scenes opposite Blanchett and Baldwin) and c) rather moving, speaks to the movie’s bizarre and weirdly smooth blend of tones. (Louis C.K. later swings by as a randy stereo salesman.) 

After his own specific, never-quite-matched breed of neurotic one-liners, Allen’s most eccentric cinematic gift is a knack for deliberate, gradual pacing, wherein he leisurely strolls through a complex, twisty plot. His patience proves hugely rewarding, even when — as in the underrated “Cassandra’s Dream” — the material is second-rate. The same thing happens here, only the wobbly tone gives it an extra level of excitement.

This is Allen’s most ambitious film in ages, if not always his smoothest: The flashbacks can be artlessly integrated, while there’s an undercurrent of distaste for the working class, who are portrayed as babbling grotesques. (Although funny ones: Max Casella kills in one small section, obliviously hitting on a horrified Jasmine.) Of course, there’s also distaste for the wealthy. As it becomes ultimately apparent, there’s no way out for anyone.


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