Film review: Past, present don’t mesh in Allen’s latest

Film review: Past, present don’t mesh in Allen’s latest
Woody Allen, left, directs Cate Blanchett and Alden Ehrenreich in “Blue Jasmine.” Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

“Blue Jasmine” benefits from having Cate Blanchett in the lead role and a colorful supporting cast, but the so-so story and the difficulty in discerning the past and the present thwart its strive to become something much greater. 

Classy New York socialite Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) had everything a woman of her status could want: luxury, wealth, and connections. Not much of a surprise, given her marriage to rich businessman Hal (Alec Baldwin), which, for her, is an additional bonus.

But when her life comes crashing down, she moves into her sister Ginger’s modest San Francisco apartment and attempts to pull herself back together again by setting her heart on becoming an interior designer.

For someone as irrational, hypercritical, and superficial as she is, salvaging what remains of her life is easier said than done…and perhaps even impossible.

OK, so from what I understand, what Woody Allen has crafted here is a character study, dedicated to probing the obstacles Jasmine has to handle following the collapse of her wealthy East Coast lifestyle.

His intention succeeds…at the cost of a thin narrative that doesn’t exhibit many signs of going anywhere. There’s not much of a story to follow, which might induce yawns and sleepy eyes from those who want a film with an emphasis on both plot and character.

I’m not saying this story is of paltry quality; I just wish Allen had weaved together a plot with a confident sense of direction — beginning to end — to go with the already engaging character analysis.

And on top of that, I had trouble differentiating between the scenes depicting Jasmine’s previous East Coast life and the subsequent West Coast one. If you ask me, I think Allen’s decision to focus on the events leading up to Jasmine’s current situation via a non-linear fashion backfired on him.

Perhaps he expected too much from his audience, assuming they would immediately recognize Jasmine consorting with her husband before she hit rock bottom and ended up living with Ginger?

I suppose the skeleton story should be taken into account as well, as it most likely exacerbated the confusing flow.

A better sense of indication — use of different color schemes, camerawork, etc. — could’ve aided in establishing the past and the present.

If there’s anything about “Blue Jasmine” that can be considered a significant redeemable factor, it would be the acting.

Regardless of what your stance is toward Woody Allen, you have to admit, he’s a maestro when it comes to creating mesmerizing cast performances. Every character in Jasmine’s life has a history worth pondering about, and how they go about their present lives is even more fascinating.

And when you have a script written by a director who’s built his career on layered and direct dialogue, you can bet the cast will be nothing short of captivating.

Cate Blanchett inhabits every facet of Jasmine’s complicated personality with flying colors; Allen couldn’t have picked a more perfect actress to convincingly play the part. Alec Baldwin, being his usual brilliant self, is a delight to watch as he both captures Blanchett’s heart and breaks it in an instant.

The winner of the “scene stealer” title goes to Sally Hawkins, who has fun instilling modesty and sensibility in Ginger.

As for Bobby Cannavale, you can pretty much feel the energy coursing through him in his role of Chili, a local grease monkey and Ginger’s boyfriend. On a final note, veteran comedian Andrew Dice Clay turns in a resonant, yet understated performance as Augie.

In the end, “Blue Jasmine” receives top marks for acting, but no marks for narrative development. I’m not going to lie to you, folks — this film will probably sit well with Woody Allen fans and moviegoers looking for prospective award-worthy performances.

But I cannot guarantee its middling story, as well as its confusion over what happened in the past and what’s happening in the present, won’t bore a fair number of people to sleep.

MPAA rating: PG-13 for mature thematic element, language and sexual content.
Run time: 1 hour and 38 minutes
Playing: Limited release; Landmark Hillcrest, ArcLight La Jolla, Landmark La Jolla

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