Sunday, September 07, 2008

Wong Kar Wai's My Blueberry Nights

Wong Kar Wai has made his first American film, My Blueberry Nights.

Having been impressed with his
Days of Being Wild, In the Mood for Love, and particularly his near-masterpiece 2046
-- all of which I caught up with on DVD -- I was keen to see his latest opus in a real movie theater. Normally, I prefer DVDs (unless I can see a movie in a technically superb theater, like Hollywood's ArcLight Cinema), but Wong is such a strong visual director that I figured it was worth it to endure the hassles and expense of a trip to the bigger screen of the cineplex. But My Blueberry Nights lingered at my local semi-art-house theater for only a week, and I missed it. But at least it was quickly released on DVD.


Probably wisely, Wong didn't try for a tour de force like 2046 while getting his bearings in the American idiom. Nights is a leisurely paced, gorgeously tinted adult fairy tale -- shallow but engaging. It follows Norah Jones (the delightful singer and songwriter) as Elizabeth, who wanders into a New York cafe owned by Jeremy (Jude Law) after breaking up with her boyfriend. It soon develops that he, too, is nursing a wounded heart from a relationship cutoff. When he offers her a slice of blueberry pie, the running metaphor starts.

Fortunately, the script doesn't settle into pop psychology
clich├ęs about two lonely people finding each other (not for most of the film, anyway). Elizabeth bolts from New York, spends some time in a Tennessee city working as a waitress in a restaurant and bar, later heads out to Nevada for more of the same. Along the way she becomes involved in the personal dilemmas of other characters she meets in her job.

Wong wrote the script along with the crime novelist Lawrence Block, presumably recruited to add some authentically American spice to the dialogue. Nights has a few islands of drama, effectively directed and acted, but it's mostly an exercise in atmosphere. Its cinematography is typical of Wong's films, with hot, saturated colors (red and, naturally, blue predominating somewhat). When the plot energy droops, the movie's stimulating painterly qualities are often enough to keep you immersed in it. There are moments, though, when even the candy store colors seem like an effort to fill in for ideas that aren't there.

At least Wong avoided one of his mannerisms -- there aren't any long takes of characters talking while soundstage rain drenches them. (A couple of cultural bloopers, though: people in Tennessee cities don't build streetcorner shrines with flowers and a photograph of the deceased; and a Las Vegas hospital shouldn't look like a middle-sized department store, with opening and closing hours stenciled on the window.)

Natalie Portman in My Blueberry Nights

Norah Jones conveys the kind of sweet openness that she projects in her music, and it's not inappropriate for the part. Unfortunately for her, she doesn't hold the screen as well as the more professional actors in the cast -- Law, Rachel Weisz, David Strathairn, and Natalie Portman. Weisz and Portman make a meal out of their flamboyant parts, and the always-impressive Strathairn does a superb turn as an emotionally shattered policeman Elizabeth meets in the bar where she serves and he drinks.

There is no reason to doubt that Wong has further exceptional films in him. Meanwhile, My Blueberry Nights is an enjoyable divertimento. It's superior to almost anything widely available and publicized in movie theaters this year, a sad commentary on audience and media tastes.

1 comment:

1minutefilmreview said...

Nice review. Loved the film, we're WKW fans too.