We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
One of this summer's most unlikely dynamite acting duke-outs comes courtesy of Woody Allen's latest, "Blue Jasmine," a bicoastal drama with flashes of humor and transparent undertones of "A Streetcar Named Desire" that features the latest in the director's long line of compelling yet complicated leading ladies.
In this corner, joining the ranks of such delightfully difficult divas as Penelope Cruz ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona") and Judy Davis ("Husbands and Wives"), is that thespian thunder from Down Under, Cate Blanchett. Swank and svelte in increasingly rumpled Chanel, she plays a disgraced, displaced and utterly delusional Manhattan socialite whose designer-brand lifestyle implodes after moving into her sister's downscale San Francisco home.
In the opposite corner is Brooklyn-bred Andrew Dice Clay, that '80s-vintage foul-mouthed Fonzie, as Jasmine's burly blue-collar ex-brother-in-law. When Clay's Augie eventually crushes the hopes of Blanchett's Jasmine—much as her investment schemer husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin, at home in slick slimeball mode), ruined Augie's financial dreams—it's as if you're watching Blanche DuBois and Stanley Kowalski spar in an Almodovar film inspired by the travails of Ruth Madoff, wife of the infamous swindler to the stars.
Such oddball casting—heavy on big-galoot types, with an appearance by comic-of-the-moment Louis C.K.—is just one of the intoxicating reasons that Allen's latest annual offering to the cinema gods feels more substantial (a pet word tossed around by Blanchett's character) than some of his recent work. "Blue Jasmine" might have some disconnects in the plotting department, but its focus on the lies we tell ourselves and others just to get through each day packs a relevant punch.