The first thing you’re likely to hear from a fan of Woody Allen’s new film, Blue Jasmine, is that star Cate Blanchett is amazing (because she is) and that the perpetually Oscar-worthy actress turns in yet another Oscar-worthy performance in the auteur’s black as night comedy. The second thing you’re likely to hear from that same fan is that co-star Sally Hawkins is also amazing and that she proves herself adept at supporting the work Blanchett does while also imperceptibly straddling the line between comedy and drama with her own performance. Blue Jasmine, on a whole, lives and dies at the hand of its two central female performances – so it’s good news that Blanchett and Hawkins are both more than up to the task at hand, but it’s even better news that the film’s male-dominated supporting cast is also tremendous.
A fairy tale about the 1%, Blue Jasmine sees Blanchett as the eponymous Jasmine, disgraced Park Ave. housewife and social gadfly, who decamps from Manhattan after her husband (Alec Baldwin) hits her with the one-two punch of “I’m leaving you for the nanny” (not even their nanny! Someone else’s nanny!) and “Also, I was running a Ponzi scheme and am now going to jail and, oops, now you’re impoverished.” Unskilled, mortified, and slipping into psychosis, Jasmine heads west to the only family she has left, her sister Ginger (Hawkins), who has more than enough problems of her own. The film unfolds thanks to a back-and-forth narrative that flits between Jasmine and Ginger’s middle class San Francisco life and Jasmine’s once-idyllic New York City existence, and the result is very funny and very sad (but mainly very funny).
It’s also a narrative that is punctuated by a pack of men who frequently wreck absolute havoc on both Jasmine and Ginger. But when that pack of mostly no-good men is rounded out by Baldwin, Louis C.K., Andrew Dice Clay, Peter Sarsgaard, and more, the result is one of the best male-dominated supporting casts in recent memory.
Alec Baldwin as Hal
Jasmine’s ex Hal is the most recognizable villain of the entire outing (besides, well, Jasmine herself), and Baldwin plays him with his traditional upper-crust aplomb, a jerk-off version of Jack Donaghy for the ages. Hal is a moron, plain and simple, but he’s also a criminal and a liar and a skilled charmer. It’s understood early on that Hal swept a young Jasmine off her feet, marrying her before she could finish college, a move that cleverly keeps Jasmine from feeling that she has any of her own intellect to match Hal’s. He’s a wily one, but Hal is also susceptible to the charms of women (many, many women), and when he finally tells Jasmine he’s leaving her for someone else’s French nanny, fully convinced that they are truly in love, it’s alternately hilarious and horrific. Baldwin commits.
Andrew Dice Clay as Augie
Dice doesn’t get as much screen time as we’d like from the nineties-era funny man, but as Ginger’s ex, he injects some unexpected pathos to Augie. It doesn’t hurt that film’s unexpected climax comes care of an alternately swaggering and broken Augie, a role Dice should get to play often (and well).
Bobby Cannavale as Chili
As Ginger’s current boyfriend, Chili is all male machismo, and while Cannavale can’t avoid the influence of one hell of a haircut on his performance, he’d be up to snuff even if he was bald. (Seriously, you need to experience this haircut.) By the time he’s sobbing and mewling in the middle of Ginger’s workplace (a grocery store, about as public as it gets), it’s clear that male bravado doesn’t mean a damn thing, and Cannavale portrays that sort of emotional availability with a strange charm. (Also, anyone who cries in the middle of a grocery store deserves some kind of recognition.)
Michael Stuhlbarg as Dr. Flicker
Ugh, Dr. Flicker! Post-San Francisco move, Jasmine finds herself in need of a job (imagine that), and she soon accepts a position as a receptionist in a local dentist’s office. Stuhlbarg’s Dr. Flicker is clearly not right from the start, but his doofy goofball thing could just be the result of too much laughing gas and staring into people’s mouths all day. Until he makes his intentions known, and in one of the most heinously creepy and uncomfortably hilarious sequences Allen has ever put together. Stuhlbarg’s performance will make you titter and feel the need to jump out of your own skin. (That’s a compliment.)
Peter Sarsgaard as Dwight
Things finally seem to be looking up for Jasmine once she meets Dwight, a very eligible bachelor with money and political aspirations to spare. But there’s a strange whiff of disbelief around Sarsgaard’s Dwight and his actual character, no small feat, considering Blue Jasmine is a film about the lies we tell each other (and ourselves). To stand out as a potential liar in a whole mess of known liars is some tidy work from Sarsgaard.
Louis C.K. as Al
Current comedic treasure C.K. finally gets a different kind of role – as a potential romantic suitor to Ginger who seems to be filled with nothing but good intentions – until he flips to—you know what? No. If you’re not sold on Blue Jasmine yet, just know that C.K.’s character packs an eye-popping surprise, and that alone should get your butt in the nearest theater seat.
Alden Ehrenreich as Danny
As Jasmine’s estranged stepson, Ehrenreich (long a “rising” male star whose name frequently pops up on those damn “short lists”) has the honor of being the only truly pitiable guy in all of Blue Jasmine. He only has a handful of scenes throughout the film, but even those track an impressive character arc.
Blue Jasmine opens in limited release today.