All throughout Blue Jasmine, the latest of Woody Allen's annual films, people say, "I'm a different person" or "I've changed." Usually they haven't, though, and it's almost always a roundabout apology for some past awful behavior. The title character, played by Cate Blanchett, is (or was) a wealthy Manhattanite. When her ex-husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) turns out to be a Madoff-like crook, she loses everything, so she temporarily relocates to San Francisco to stay with her working-class sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). This being a Woody Allen movie, of course both struggle with money and love, but there's a clarity here, a cutting focus Allen hasn't displayed possibly since Crimes and Misdemeanors, a whopping 24 years (and 24 films) ago.
This is a somewhat darker but still lively combination of Woody's class-conscious comedies, like Manhattan or Hannah and Her Sisters, blended with the melancholy of some of his more Bergman-esque enterprises, like September or Another Woman. Here, everyone is lying to themselves—lying about who they are, what they want, and what they feel they deserve, without falling back on lazy class designations. The rich people aren't uniformly greedy and oblivious, and the "poor" folks aren't stupid but saintly.
Blanchett is amazing as this supremely deluded neurotic, perhaps a pathological liar, beset by panic attacks. Afraid to move forward because she has no idea where to go, she takes halfhearted stabs at computer classes and takes a job as a dental receptionist that only reinforces both her low self-esteem and her entitlement complex. It's a somewhat showy performance, but then Allen has never directed his actors toward subtlety, and it's refreshing to see his jangly, sometimes unpleasant protagonists channel that energy toward masking something potentially more sinister: a measure of complicity in their personal disasters.