My Blueberry Nights

UK release date: 22 February 2008

cast list

Norah Jones
Rachel Weisz
Natalie Portman
Jude Law

directed by
Wong Kar Wai
Wong Kar Wais eagerly awaited English-language debut is a disappointment. The Hong Kong directors distinctive visual flair and technical innovation, shown so brilliantly in films like Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love, is still on display but it has not been well-integrated into the American setting. The result is a gorgeous-looking movie with more style than substance.

The story is typically sweet and sour. Elizabeth (Norah Jones) leaves New York after finding out from caf owner Jeremy (Jude Law) that her boyfriend is seeing another woman. Working in both a caf and a bar in Memphis, she witnesses the violent break-up between policeman Arnie (David Straithairn) and his unfaithful wife Sue Lynne (Rachel Weisz), then hooks up with compulsive gambler Leslie (Natalie Portman) who is driving to Las Vegas to get more money from her dying father, before she returns home to the Big Apple.

Wongs co-writer, American crime novelist Lawrence Block, seems a strange choice for this moodily romantic drama about failed relationships. My Blueberry Nights pays half-hearted reference to the road movie genre, though as usual with Wong the scenes are mainly intimate and enclosed, so we see very little of the American landscape. The idea of Elizabeths physical journey also being an interior journey, as she comes to terms with her own heartbreak by experiencing at close-hand the worse problems of people she encounters, makes little impact because the film has no real emotional depth.

The main problem is that Wong, in this homage to Americana, has concentrated too much on texture and not enough on below-surface characterization. Of course many foreign directors have made successful films in America, bringing a fresh, outsiders eye to give a new insight into well-worn themes (such as Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm or Wim Wenders Paris, Texas), but here Wongs vision seems to be inspired more by watching American movies than by engaging with real life.

Wongs trademark stylization, at its best original and exhilarating, here too often comes across as trickery, with irritating slo-mo, pointlessly perverse camera angles, and long, lingering shots of blueberry pie, subway trains, sports cars and jukeboxes giving a sense of self-conscious kitsch. Darius Khondjis cinematography is superb, with wonderful colour and lighting effects providing a continuous delight to the eye, but it is not really used to illuminate the predicaments of the characters. Ry Cooders bluesy score sets the right tone for a movie about heartache its just a shame we dont feel it.

In her screen debut Norah Jones acquits herself reasonably well, albeit on the bland side, but Jude Laws cheesy love for her is as unconvincing as his Mancunian accent. More persuasive are the performances of David Straithairn as the cop driven to drink and destruction and Rachel Weiszs dipsy femme fatale desperate to escape his stifling attentions, while Natalie Portman adds spark as an out of control poker player taking ever bigger risks.

Unfortunately, however, this slice of blueberry pie proves not to be the real thing, as it looks better than it tastes.

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