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Profile image for By Boo Allen / Film Critic
By Boo Allen / Film Critic

Allen’s troubled ‘Jasmine’ indebted to Blanche DuBois

The blue in Blue Jasmine, the strange new character study from Woody Allen, signifies the main character’s perpetual gloom. Or it might originate from the song “Blue Moon,” which was playing the night Jasmine met her husband. And, although Jasmine is really a Jeannette, the name she would be more easily recognized by would be Blanche DuBois.

The reliably prolific Allen has turned out a hard-to-classify hybrid, a film with a dramatic, mostly purloined plot, peppered with ample amounts of trademark Allen humor, even when it seems incongruous.

Blue Jasmine is not a remake of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, but so many plot points coincide, it seems strange that the play is not credited. It must be more than coincidental that three of the film’s main actors (Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin and Bobby Cannavale) have appeared in stage productions of Streetcar.

Blanchett plays Jasmine, who arrives penniless in San Francisco to live with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Years before, the imperious Jasmine condescended to allow her sister and her husband, Augie (a surprisingly effective Andrew Dice Clay), invest lottery winnings with her mini-Madoff husband, Hal (Baldwin).

Allen spells out Hal’s misdeeds early and then jumps back and forth in time to establish Jasmine and Hal’s luxurious New York lifestyle. That troubled history haunts the sisters when Jasmine arrives, still acting entitled and privileged even though she has been humiliated and forsaken.

Jasmine initially causes problems for Ginger and her new boyfriend, Chili, played by Cannavale (who wears a close fitting T-shirt and does everything but scream “Stellaaaa!”).

Allen creates a few revealing situations for Jasmine, giving her distaff versions of some of the history that Blanche DuBois only talked about. These new sequences help explain why Jasmine now lies, drinks too much and pops too much Xanax. These detours indicate how Allen also finds humor in the macabre, as Jasmine takes a pill while telling someone she has a headache. “You have a headache,” a character asks her, “and you are taking Xanax?”

The film would have lesser impact and would almost fall into straight satire if not for Blanchett standing firm at the center of Blue Jasmine. She never breaks character or winks at the camera, staying focused on the traumatic and pathetic dissembling of this fragile woman. And she does it beautifully and realistically in this beguiling film.

MOVIE RATING

Blue Jasmine

*** 1/2

Rated PG-13, 98 minutes.

Opens Friday at the Cinemark West Plano and the Magnolia in Dallas.