We’re first introduced to Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), an unpleasant socialite who’s fallen on hard times, as she talks the ear off a poor woman on a plane to San Francisco, her fellow passenger having made the mistake of interrupting a monologue she was having with herself. It’s a fitting introduction to Woody Allen’s claustrophobic new drama, which follows Jasmine to San Francisco, where she hopes to start afresh after her husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), is exposed as a fraudster and adulterer.
An unrepentant snob with a haughty bearing and a wardrobe full of designer clothes, Jasmine finds herself at odds with her adopted sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), whom she plans to stay with until she is back on her feet. Jasmine had little time for Ginger when she was living high on the hog in Manhattan and finds herself appalled at Ginger’s working-class lifestyle and new boyfriend, Chili (Bobby Cannavale), a mechanic.
Still clinging to her old luxurious lifestyle and increasingly embracing delusion, Jasmine finds she is so cut off from the modern world that she needs basic computer classes before she can even think about her lofty ambitions to train as a designer.
The story flashes back and forth between Jasmine’s glamorous New York life of polo matches and Hamptons holidays and her later comeuppance in California. Along the way, Ginger and ex-boyfriend Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) make a rare visit to New York, where Jasmine suggests Hal can invest money for Ginger and Augie. The flashbacks find Jasmine in wilfully ignorant bliss, raising the question of whether she should have taken more of an interest in his staggering accumulation of wealth.
There are definite echoes of Blanchett’s tour de force performance in A Streetcar Named Desire here, with Chili a kind of hot-blooded Stanley to Jasmine’s pretentious Blanche Dubois figure. As in the Tennessee Williams classic, the arrival of a down-on-her-luck heroine strains the relationship of her reluctant hosts, and Hawkins is terrific as the long-suffering Ginger.
The performances make up for the shortcomings in a script which is surprisingly slight at times, lacking for something new to say about the Bernie Madoff-like figure of Hal and his downfall. Still, the prickly figure of Jasmine, a character who is by turns contemptible and pitiful, washing Xanax down with vodka as she endlessly recounts stories from better times, is perfectly realised, and Blanchett’s compelling work lights up one of Woody Allen’s darkest films.