Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) clings to her sanity the way she hangs on to her white Chanel jacket and the Hermes handbag that dangles from her arm midway between wrist and elbow.
But in the new Woody Allen drama, "Blue Jasmine," her mental health is slipping away along with her pricey possessions -- symbols and remnants of her old life as a Manhattan socialite married to a charming wealthy businessman (Alec Baldwin).
4 stars = Outstanding
Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins.
PG-13 for mature thematic material, language and sexual content.
She once had a maid to answer the door, a ring with a diamond the size of a postage stamp, an upscale charity of choice and friends who shopped for gowns to wear to tony galas. Jasmine and Hal (Mr. Baldwin) owned a spacious Fifth Avenue apartment with a view of Central Park and the requisite beach house in the Hamptons.
It all went away, including Hal, who turned out to be a better-looking version of Bernie Madoff, who took lots of money from investors, skirted or broke the law and lost it all.
As "Blue Jasmine" opens, Jasmine is on a plane bound for San Francisco, where she plans to reside with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), and start a new life. But she brings her habits of occasionally talking to herself or others who are absent, medicating herself with Xanax and Stoli martinis with a twist of lemon, and criticizing her sister's choice of men.
Isn't that rich!
The two never had an easy relationship, and it panics and stuns Jasmine to be sharing a tiny apartment with her divorced sister, who is a grocery cashier and mother of two boys. The New Yorker's attempt to join the workaday world proves disastrous and humiliating, as does the prospect of finding love with the right man again.
"Blue Jasmine," which swims from past to present with effortless ease, boasts the most eclectic and surprisingly synergistic cast of the year.
The movie belongs to Ms. Blanchett, an Oscar winner as the fast-talking, patrician Katharine Hepburn in "The Aviator" and a nominee four additional times.
She brings a vivid blend of haughty elegance and heartbreaking fragility to Jasmine. Ms. Blanchett makes her seem like a beautiful but delicate porcelain vase; look closely enough and you will see the spider-vein cracks. If the cracks become too many and too deep, the vessel will not hold.
Ms. Hawkins played Colin Farrell's working-class girlfriend in Mr. Allen's "Cassandra's Dream" but may be better known as the sunny, kooky school teacher in "Happy-Go-Lucky." Here, Ginger has always felt as though she played second fiddle to her prettier, more favored sister and yet she's willing to welcome her into her home.
But Andrew Dice Clay in a Woody Allen movie? Who would have thought it, and yet he's a perfect fit.
Playing the men in Ginger's life, he, Bobby Cannavale and Louis C.K. represent varying degrees of rough edges, blunt talk and blue-collar earthiness. Although Jasmine advises Mr. Clay's character to move on, he could be speaking for her when he insists, "Some people, they don't put things behind so easily."
A genteel, long-haired Peter Sarsgaard leaves cold-eyed villains behind to turn on the warmth and charm here as a newcomer in Jasmine's circle, while Michael Stuhlbarg ("A Serious Man") is a dentist who admires Jasmine's good dental hygiene and other assets.
"Blue Jasmine," which partially takes its name from the song "Blue Moon," shows what happens when comfortable cocoons of wealth and lies are stripped away and those inside are left exposed. Like Blanche DuBois in "A Streetcar Named Desire," another woman who moves in with her sister, Jasmine is fearful of the glare of the truth. Or her erstwhile dinner-party guests.
The film, which turns on making, marrying, winning and losing money and how that shapes self-worth, conceals some key information until late in the game when it functions as a knock-out punch to someone already on the ropes.
Although it has flares of laughter, there is no Woody Allen stand-in, as in some of his comedies. Then again, this isn't a comedy but an excellent drama with a bracing, bleak and powerful end.