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'Blue Jasmine,' Woody Allen's sister saga, sends up the 1 percenters

'Blue Jasmine,' Allen's newest film, makes simple-minded class distinctions and his heroine doesn't provoke much sympathy.

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Left to right: Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), Eddie (Max Casella), Chili (Bobby Cannavale), and Ginger (Sally Hawkins) cavort in 'Blue Jasmine.'

Sony Pictures

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Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” opens with a sequence that seems funny but soon plays out in ways that are anything but. A well-appointed woman, Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine, flying coast to coast first-class, is regaling her uncomfortable seatmate with nonstop blather about sex and the good life.

It soon becomes clear that Jasmine is bereft and perhaps a bit deranged. We learn that her moneyed life in New York collapsed when her Bernie Madoff-like swindler husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), was arrested, later killing himself in prison. Now she is decamping to the San Francisco home of her chipper, down-to-earth sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), whose working-class ex-husband, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), had been cheated by Hal out of $200,000 in lottery winnings.

Ginger’s new muscle-shirted boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale), like Augie, resents Jasmine’s high-toned, highhanded ways, which she clings to like a life raft despite finding herself in the demeaning position of having to work as a dentist’s assistant to make money.

Plied most of the time with martinis and antidepressants, Jasmine makes life miserable for her sister, who nevertheless feels a strong familial bond. (They were adopted from different sets of parents.) Ginger acts as helpmate to this scourge even when her boyfriends are derided as losers. Meanwhile, Jasmine refuses to fully admit Hal’s corruptions and infidelities, which we see amply played out in the film’s numerous flashbacks to her swank past life.

Why should we care about Jasmine? For me, the best reason was Blanchett’s all-out performance, which is often frighteningly vivid. (The film is uniformly well acted.) She gives Jasmine’s despair an almost tensile strength. Blanchett has played Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire” on stage, and in “Blue Jasmine,” which has many allusions to that play, she is playing a variant on Blanche.

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