Take Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), for example. With a wardrobe Anna Wintour would covet, she carries herself as if she's still a New York socialite married to wealthy financier Hal (Alec Baldwin). But in reality, she has completely unraveled, having lost her fortune and status after Hal turned out to be a womanizing Bernie Madoff type. Forced to move in with her blue-collar sister (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco, she balks at the thought of getting a job -- even while toting around Louis Vuitton luggage.
The exquisite Blanchett amazes, bringing brittleness and vulnerability to a woman on the edge. Jasmine (nee Jeanette) fixates on appearances, and in a clever touch, none of the people who surround her are quite what they seem at first blush. (An eclectic mix of actors fills out the supporting roles, from Peter Sarsgaard as a suitor to Andrew Dice Clay as her ex-brother-in-law.)