Woody Allen's annual talent show is this year a Wizard of Oz-ing of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, with the writer-director jumbling that play's characters, motivations and outcomes and laying them around star Cate Blanchett in an uneven mosaic. As usual the past couple of decades, the cinematography (by Javier Aguirresarobe) is lush, the screenplay awkwardly tin-eared and thin. There's brilliant casting, but Allen has again directed performances that fall out-of-sync with one another.
For Blanchett, who has played Blanche DuBois onstage (under the direction of Allen godhead Liv Ullmann), that disconnect works. Her Jasmine, this oversimple story's version of Blanche, thinks and speaks and moves a plane apart from everyone around her, first as their social better and then as a woman grasping to regain a hold on her crumbling sanity. It's another of Allen's old-fashioned characters, tailored from increasingly distant cultural memory rather than from any interactions he may have had with persons born since, say, the Beatles broke up. In Blanchett's care, though, Jasmine becomes a three-dimensional, viscerally discomfiting figure — one confused to discover the flat falsity all around her, like someone invited to a dinner party at which the other guests are all cardboard cutouts.
It's a swell party, one thrown by Hal (Alec Baldwin, perfectly reptilian), Jasmine's hedge-fund-criminal husband. And then it's over (we see the trip over the cliff only in flashback), and Jasmine packs her Vuittons and decamps to her sister's place in San Francisco. In California, she meets a gallery of characters hostile to pretty much every moviegoing constituency, even by Allen's recent standards. The working poor are loud meatheads (Bobby Cannavale, wasted; Andrew Dice Clay, redeemed) and dopes (Sally Hawkins, loose-limbed and overeager as the sister). Various men of various classes (Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg, Louis C.K.) disappoint without nuance or regret. Rich and not rich are equally loathsome, and no one here would fail to find some improvement in a lobotomy. No one except Jasmine, and only because Blanchett knows things about her that Allen never will.