More than 40 years into Woody Allen’s filmmaking career, it’s still somewhat disorienting when he bypasses most overt comedy and fantastical premises for a straightforward character study like Sweet & Lowdown. Yet there’s still nothing quite like when talented actors get to work on a Woody Allen script.
Here he tells the story of two estranged adopted sisters: Ginger (Sally Hawkins), a divorced single mother living in San Francisco; and Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), left destitute after the arrest and subsequent suicide of her fraudulent wheeler-dealer husband (Alec Baldwin). Both are in transition, yet they also both seem to have radically different ideas for what they should expect to get out of life and out of their romantic relationships.
Those differing sensibilities provide the backbone of Blue Jasmine, as both Jasmine and Ginger begin new love affairs—Jasmine with a politically aspiring diplomat (Peter Sarsgaard), Ginger with a mild-mannered guy (Louis C.K.) who seems radically different from both her blue-collar current boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale) and ex-husband (Andrew Dice Clay). While Allen often sketches where he could fill in details more precisely, he still nails the way both women fall victim to closing their eyes when opening them would ruin the perfect romantic illusion.
Or, more accurately, Blanchett and Hawkins nail it. Blanchett has been showered with praise for her performance, and indeed it’s a compelling portrait of someone locked in beautiful manufactured story about herself—and with one heartbreaking moment when she realizes there’s a possibility of picking up the shattered pieces of that story—although it also falls into some neurotic tics. But Hawkins is just as terrific, underplaying the sense of inferiority built into her relationship with Jasmine and her relationships with men. The straight-ahead jokes may be relatively few here, but Allen doesn’t always need them to make movies that deliver.