MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS Directed by Wong Kar Wai, written by Wong and Lawrence Block, with Norah Jones, Jude Law, Rachel Weisz, Natalie Portman and David Strathairn. An Equinoxe release. 96 minutes. Opens Friday (May 9). For venues and times, see listings. Rating: N
My Blueberry Nights is the English-language debut of Wong Kar Wai, the Hong Kong stylist behind such sumptuous, genre-defying works as Ashes Of Time, Chungking Express, In The Mood For Love and 2046 – films that are about texture and mood as much as they are about their stories.
Wong’s movies create pocket universes of swooning devotion and unspoken angst. His characters – often embodied by such exquisite creatures as Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu Wai – carry their repressed emotions like pendulous weights. And they usually smoke a lot, because smoking is cool.
In My Blueberry Nights, Wong tries to transplant his distinctive mise-en-scène to an American landscape for a kind of road movie about a young woman (the singer Norah Jones, in her first leading role) who leaves New York and heads west to get over a broken heart.
In Memphis, she meets an alcoholic highway patrolman (David Strathairn) and his estranged wife (Rachel Weisz). Later, in Nevada, she hooks up with a gambler (Natalie Portman). She listens to their tales of woe, and every now and then she sends a postcard to Jeremy (Jude Law), the sympathetic owner of a café back in Manhattan who served her blueberry pie with ice cream when she was sad.
If this were in Cantonese, we’d probably think it was delirious and bittersweet and ascribe all manner of import to Wong’s stuttering cinematography and close-ups of juicy fruit pie filling. But it’s in English, and within maybe 10 minutes it became painfully clear to me that, at least in this language, Wong has nothing to say – about people, about romance, about pie. Nothing.
What’s worse, he has no idea how to direct his actors. Jones is fine in an undemanding part, but Portman and Weisz wind up over-emoting in wretched Southern accents, while Law seems to have a great deal of trouble remembering that his character is from the north of England rather than central London.
There is plenty of texture, conveyed through Darius Khondji’s lovely, evocative cinematography, but no plot to speak of – or character development, or emotional resonance. At least this version is about 20 minutes shorter than the cut that stupefied audiences in Cannes last year.
It’s never any fun to watch a great filmmaker fall flat on his face, and I take no pleasure in panning My Blueberry Nights. In fact, if there was any pleasure to be had in the film, hell, I’d have found it. I certainly stared at it long enough.