Let's assume that Woody Allen finally hates everybody. Let's assume that his misanthropy is a constant, that it's grown deeper over time, that it's built on a foundation of comedic self-loathing, that it extends to his characters and that it's now no longer applied selectively. Whether they're his own kind of well-off Manhattanite or the working class he finds adorably tacky but has never appeared to understand at all, it seems that his belief in human decency is a thing of the past.
But not so long ago that kind of generosity could, and sometimes did, inform his films. In 1990's Alice, Mia Farrow's pampered New Yorker, with the help of some magical herbs, finds a renewed sense of her own goodness outside of wealth and consumerism. She leaves behind her selfish lifestyle and earns her own self-respect. But that was over 20 years ago; in 2013, Allen's similarly privileged Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), forced out of the 1% thanks to her husband's (Alec Baldwin) criminal financial dealings, struggles to maintain both her claim to luxury -- you'll pry that Louis Vuitton luggage and Hermes bag from her cold, dead hands -- and to her own sanity. And she's losing.
Jasmine moves to San Francisco to live with her estranged sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) and to find work. Reasoning that she'd make a good interior decorator, Jasmine decides to enroll in a computer class so that she can learn how to use the Internet, which will then allow her to get her decorating license online. Let that scenario sink in for a minute: a class in how to turn on and operate a computer. And yes, they still exist; you can Google it like I did.
Extending the benefit of the doubt to Allen's own connection to the outside world, Blue Jasmine reads as a satire of contemporary soulless wealth and human cruelty, a drama of destruction that allows for a few laughs, almost always at his brutalized heroine's expense. She's broken from the inside, complicit in her own demise, encased in a bubble that keeps her from understanding basic laptop skills, haughty, unpleasant, Xanax-popping and grasping at anyone who'll come to her rescue unless she feels they're beneath her station. When it looks like that might happen, it takes the form of an aspiring politician (Peter Sarsgaard) who's so impeccably in tune with Jasmine's worldview that he could be taken as a construction of her fractured imagination. Allen lets her suffer throughout, all but scorching her with his giant magnifying glass. And she's not his only target. Ginger's life, damaged by Jasmine, is also under attack from an occasionally violent boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale), a new lover she's just met (Louis C.K.) and an ex-husband (Andrew Dice Clay) who won't stop bringing up the truth about Jasmine's horrible past. Nobody gets out of here clean.
Tempering all this is Cate Blanchett's performance as the doomed Jasmine. Not exactly known as a warm actor, Blanchett still understands that creeping mental breakdowns among the highly strung, sophisticated and neurotic -- the movie variety where you babble to yourself in front of strangers -- should still involve some grace instead of being played for laughs. She delivers a big performance but not a messy one. She's specific and exact, finding a way in to a place where empathy for Jasmine feels like the only compassionate response. Let's say Allen really does hate this person; it doesn't matter. Blanchett doesn't. Through her you still feel the sadness of a ruined human life.