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As wounded bird, Cate Blanchett soars in ‘Blue Jasmine’


Jasmine Cate Blanchett

Ginger Sally Hawkins

Chili Bobby Cannavale

Hal Alec Baldwin

Augie Andrew Dice Clay

Dwight Peter Sarsgaard

Sony Classics presents a film written and directed by Woody Allen. Running time: 98 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for mature thematic material, language and sexual content). Opens Friday at local theaters.

Updated: September 3, 2013 6:06AM

Cate Blanchett bursts out of the gate as a startling fireball of nervous energy as the title character in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.”

Seated in first class on a flight from New York to San Francisco, dressed in an ensemble that surely cost in the thousands, Jasmine prattles on to a nodding, sympathetic older woman seated next to her. For the first of many times in “Blue Jasmine,” we hear about the moment when she met Hal, the man who would become her husband. “Blue Moon” was playing in the background.

Only when they reach the baggage claim is it made evident this poor woman doesn’t even know Jasmine.

Jasmine imposes her woes, and her life story, on anyone unfortunate enough to cross her path. Fueled by a non-stop medley of vodka martinis and Xanax, horrified at the train wreck her life has become, condescendingly sniping at her working-class sister and the men in her life, Jasmine is a mesmerizing nightmare.

It is the kind of performance that immediately announces itself and could be deemed over the top in the hands of a lesser talent — but there is no “lesser” when it comes to Ms. Blanchett. Here is a great actress diving into a showcase role and knocking it out of the park.

A few years shy of his 80th birthday, Woody Allen isn’t about to abandon the familiar white-on-black opening titles, the music choices from more than a half-century ago, and some of the themes he’s explored again and again. But six decades into his career, Woody is still capable of writing and directing one of the liveliest, funniest and sharpest movies of the year.

The primary influence in “Blue Jasmine” is “A Streetcar Named Desire,” with Blanchett (who played Blanche Dubois onstage in Liv Ullmann’s production of “Streetcar” a few years ago) playing Jasmine as a wounded bird desperately clinging to a broken dream while fading further and further from reality.

As we learn in flashbacks set in Manhattan and the Hamptons, Jasmine was once married to Hal, a Bernie Madoff-type investment guru. Perfectly played by Alec Baldwin, Hal is a constantly smiling, smooth shark who moves about a room as an effortless multi-tasker, capable of finessing another deal while brushing off the concerns of his attorneys, flirting with Jasmine’s friends and earnestly speaking of his charitable works, all without spilling a drop of his pricey scotch.

Hal’s also thoroughly corrupt and without a conscience, in the boardroom and in the hotel rooms where he conducts his extramarital affairs. Jasmine turns a blind eye for as long as she can, but eventually it all comes crashing down in a horrific, life-changing confrontation set in one of the perfectly decorated rooms in their breathtaking Manhattan apartment.

Now Jasmine’s “temporarily” living with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins, in a marvelous performance), a grocery store cashier, and Ginger’s two husky sons from a broken marriage to the gruff Augie, played by Andrew Dice Clay (and yes, Clay gives a terrific, authentic performance).

Ginger’s dating an auto mechanic named Chili (Bobby Cannavale). Swilling his beers and speaking his mind without caring he’s fracturing the language, Chili just seems like Augie 2.0 to Jasmine, who is appalled by Ginger’s home, Ginger’s taste in men, Ginger’s sons — and is never reticent to make her feelings known, even though Jasmine’s ex-husband fleeced Ginger and Augie, and Jasmine is now living off Ginger’s kindness.

There’s a lot of unpleasantness and many an uncomfortable moment at play here, what with Jasmine’s insufferable intolerance for anything in life that’s not about her. This is heavy, dark stuff. Even when Ginger is romanced by a sweet guy (Louis C.K.) who comes across as much more evolved than Augie or Chili , or Jasmine finds herself in a whirlwind courtship with a wealthy diplomat (Peter Sarsgaard), you get the sense things will not end well.

Of course, this being a Woody Allen film, “Blue Jasmine” also provides plenty of laughs, with the stellar cast nailing the terrific lines they’ve been given to deliver. But Blanchett’s performance in particular is mostly the stuff of deep drama.

It’s brilliant, haunting work from a great actress.

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