Woody Allen taps into Tennessee Williams and Oscar Wilde in his latest foray which may be too dramatic than comedic but definitely allows a seasoned Oscar-winning thespian like Cate Blanchett to display the highs and lows of a trophy wife like a Blanche Dubois filtered through Mrs. Bernie Madoff.
A Ponzi scheme is a catalyst for an unconventional plot approach by the writer/director of the appealing tale of a struggling scenarist in Midnight in Paris as the tale bifurcates around socially upward Jasmine (a very biting, wounded Blanchett) who goes to live with her "adopted" sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in a cramped San Francisco flat. Jasmine, nee Jeanette, is an incorrigible sort whether with a cabbie, Ginger, or a Congress-bound envoy (a fine Peter Sarsgaard who can be seen to strong effect in the third season of the small-screen The Killing).
The performance goes along way from Xanax and vodka in a culpability that allows for psychological and emotional depths from a defrauding financial investor husband Hal who offered much social upward mobility, as well as shopping, yoga, and pilates from her glory Manhattan and Hampton's days. Coaxing a comedy-of-manners from the dichotomy of Jasmine with lower-middle class Ginger who has a new paramour in Al (Louis C.K.), auto mechanic boyfriend Chili, and former husband in Augie, done with understated honesty by Andrew Dice Clay (eschewing his former brash standup ways). Maybe an amusing highlight for some has the untrained Jasmine doing reception work for the skeevy Dr. Flicker (Michael Stuhlbarg of A Serious Man).
Jasmine's eponymous state and transition is brought into better perspective in the latter-going as she's used her position and delusional ploying at least to charm classy types like Sarsgaard's Dwight. In the end, Jasmine may not learn from her ignorance and struggles, but the humanity Blanchett invests into the role makes one clearly comprehend the polished performer she is (like Owen Wilson's Gil Pender quite the effective Allen surrogate). Hawkins (so wonderful in"Happy-Go-Lucky) fills Ginger with a raw spontaneity that adds to the social class angst.
Even if the storytelling itself may be inadvertently inelegant and off putting to some, a jazzy soundtrack, fluent editing, lush designs and lensing (the latter having done distinguished work on the director's breezier Vicki Cristina Barcelona) offer much cinematic reward for a cinematic nexus which has a neurotic distaff Jay Gatsby flourishing through contrivance and a little haste.