Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine, partially filmed in San Francisco and Marin, is more ambitious than his recent rom-com travelogues—it's a tragi-comic rephrase of A Streetcar Named Desire. (The play means a lot to Allen; 40 years ago, he personally burlesqued Blanche DuBois in Sleeper.)
Cate Blanchett, who recently toured as Blanche in revivals of Streetcar from Sydney to New York City, plays the penniless Jasmine. With no choices left, she descends into the San Francisco flat of her all-forgiving sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins of Happy-Go-Lucky), a friendly grocery store clerk in the Mission. Allen shuttles through time so we can see Jasmine when she was riding high a few years previously as the pampered, bubble-bath-soaked wife of Wall Street baron Hal (Alec Baldwin). Jasmine trusted him utterly, even while an Alec Baldwin character is never to be trusted.
Jasmine works her way back from this plummet, finding a last chance at love with a gentleman caller. The new man (Peter Sarsgaard) is a Tiburon princeling with political ambitions.
Allen splits the apish Stanley Kowalski figure into two separate men. Hawkins' first husband is played in a comeback role by Andrew Dice Clay, who's improved, though he's still Andrew Dice Clay. Ginger's later beau, Chili (Bobby Cannavale with an Italian version of a Human League haircut), is a garage mechanic who sees through Jasmine's fancy airs and French perfume.
The Spanish cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe tries to visualize the dull compliments Allen's characters pay the City: "It's so Mediterranean," they exclaim. "If you can't fall in love here, you can't fall in love anywhere." When on the Marin bay shore, Allen has the sense to turn the camera for a long appreciative view of the water. But he gets no excitement from the Mission. It's as if Allen envisioned the area as Queens, and once he did, he couldn't unsee that vision.
Jasmine is rich material for Blanchett. She doesn't have Tennessee Williams' language, nor the throbbing accent, but she gets to seethe with craziness, to mutter with it, to sweat through her Chanel suits. If Jasmine isn't crushed, she gets mauled a little by a drippy pawing dentist, played richly by Michael Stuhlbarg: "You can learn an awful lot about people by looking at their mouths."
Such gags work—they're what Allen does best. And Blanchett's acting will be aptly described as forceful when awards season comes. Yet maybe the word "forceful" isn't analyzed as it ought to be—doesn't it define a performer taking something unworkable and trying to beat it into submission?
'Blue Jasmine' opens Friday, Aug. 9, at Summerfield Cinemas, 551 Summerfield Road, Santa Rosa. 707.522.0719.