You need to start with Jasmine‘s basic plot — i.e., a fanciful, vodka-slurping, self-absorbed lady who’s fallen on hard times (Cate Blanchett) comes to live in San Francisco with her less fanciful, working-class sister (Sally Hawkins). In so doing she encounters what you might call a “party of apes” — Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay and (maybe) Louis C.K. There is conflict in particular with Cannavale, who thinks Blanchett is full of shit, but Hawkins begs him to cut Blanchett some slack as she’s so fragile and unstable.
And then there’s Blanchett’s telling the Wall Street Journal‘s Charles McGrath that her part in Jasmine is “[a] kind of opportunity [that] doesn’t come along all the time. The character’s like a combination of Ibsen, Tennessee Williams and Shakespeare. There’s such electricity in the gap between her knowing and not knowing.”
Blanchett, of course, played Blanche Dubois in a BAM stage presentation of Streetcar, directed by Liv Ullman, in late 2009. (Which Santa Barbara Film Festival chief Roger Durling took me to see — thanks, Roger!) I don’t know that Allen caught Blanchett’s performance, but it would have been extremely remiss not to have done so. At the very least you have to figure Allen caught wind of the hugely positive responses to the Ullman-Blanchett collaboration, and given his ties with Ullman through his ardent, lifelong admiration of the films of Ingmar Bergman, you can guess how it all came together in his head. Tell me I’m reaching. I don’t think so.