Writer/director Woody Allen loves to showcase self-loathing characters as they prevent themselves from being happy. He’s done it repeatedly in comedies (Annie Hall) and dramas (Match Point), and now he features the theme in Blue Jasmine, a strong drama highlighted by a wonderful performance from Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett (The Aviator).

Jasmine (Blanchett) once was on top of the world. Married to financier Hal (Alec Baldwin) and living it up in New York City, there was nothing Jasmine didn’t have or couldn’t get. Too bad for her she looked the other way at any and all of Hal’s indiscretions, including but not limited to infidelity and fraud. Once Hal goes to jail, Jasmine loses everything, including, to use her whiny words, “all my own money.”

Allen offers flashbacks of Jasmine and Hal together, and in the present shows her still feeling entitled to the upscale lifestyle. She even goes so far as to declare herself broke but still fly first class from New York to San Francisco to visit her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), whose ex-husband (Andrew Dice Clay) lost $200,000 to Hal years earlier. Jasmine talks to herself, is opinionated about Ginger’s lower class status, and has no idea what to do with her life. All she knows is she will not settle for anything but being back on top of society.

For example, to make ends meet she works as a dental assistant and is repulsed when the doctor (Michael Stuhlbarg) hits on her. This presents a telling virtue: Eager as she is to be with someone who has money and will provide for her, she’s not willing to settle for an unattractive dentist whose financial ceiling is limited, even if he could offer stability. This is why a handsome ambassador named Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) seems a good match for her, though her self-destructive tendencies may have something to say about this happy arrangement before it’s done.

As you may have inferred, Jasmine is delusional, paranoid, self-centered, and judgmental. She a typical Woody Allen lead character, right down to the wise remarks and self-loathing. To see this manifest in a female, let alone one in the form of Blanchett, is a true sight to behold, as there’s nary a sigh nor smile that feels out of place or unnatural. Aside from Diane Keaton in Annie Hall, this is the best female performance in any Woody Allen film.

As beautiful and deluded as Jasmine is, Ginger is equally plain and grounded. But that doesn’t mean Ginger isn’t appealing to men; her boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) is obsessed with her, and when she meets Al (Louis C.K.) we understand why she would be tempted to stray. Hawkins’ Ginger is aware of Jasmine’s negative influence and succumbs to it anyway, in part because it provides excitement to her otherwise dull life and in part because, well, she is genuinely naïve and impressionable. Through it all, Hawkins is an endearing and sympathetic presence who lights up the screen with a smile that makes her instantly likable.

Blue Jasmine isn’t consistently funny, nor does it need to be. This is an engaging film highlighted by an Oscar-worthy turn from Blanchett, whose height and physicality bring more to Jasmine’s range of emotions than most other actresses could muster. It’s a darn good performance in a darn good movie.

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