One last one.
Nah, we didn’t like it much either. Looking back at "My Blueberry Nights" with some remove, though, the film doesn’t seem such a crushing disappointment as much as just
Wong Kar Wai on an off day. He was certainly due. The run of "Happy Together," "In the Mood for Love," "2046" and his "Eros" segment "The Hand" makes it easy to forget that there have been other times his signature fixations, his heady visual style and his narrative aimlessness haven’t congealed into a great film. That it should happen with his highest profile film to date is a shame, but "My Blueberry Nights" isn’t a complete write-off — it’s just not, with the exception of one silent, quivery kiss, shot through with that particular cinematic felicity that suffuses his successes.
Part of that’s the setting: Wong’s America turns out to be a diffuse and figurative creation, sketched out in half-filtered details: New York is empty streets and elevated subway trains, Memphis is trolley cars and "Try A Little Tenderness" on the jukebox. It’s all as lusciously photographed as you’d expect, but also feels stretched thin, like he took the hyperdense Hong Kong of "Chungking Express" and spread it out across an entire continent. The best parts of the film take place in New York, where a winsome heartbroken girl played by Norah Jones starts frequenting a cafe and chatting with the scruffily charming owner (Jude Law) in the aftermath of a bad breakup. You really couldn’t do much better by way of director for your debut than did Jones, who, done up as a dusky 50s ingenue, looks fantastic in her first on-screen role. She not a strong actress, but that only grates in the beginning — as the film goes on, she’s more an unobtrusive observer, taking in the lessons imparted to her by those she meets on the road once she takes off, not yet ready for what’s blossomed into a tentative pre-courtship.
Those middle segments, in Memphis and Nevada, are clunkier, in part because those aforementioned lessons are delivered with such discordant directness (Wong co-wrote the script by mystery writer Lawrence Block), and in part because of the context-free casting. The buttoned-down David Strathairn plays a lovelorn drunk; the
aristocratic Rachel Weisz a trashy Tennessee bombshell. Natalie
Portman, in bleached curls and a thigh-skimming dress, is supposed to
be a strutting, seen-it-all poker player, and it’s the toughest act to buy.
It’s Chan Marshall, the singer also known as Cat Power and whose "The Greatest" serves as the warmly weary theme of the film’s first segment, who makes the biggest impression in the least amount of screen time. In what’s again inexplicable casting, she plays, honeyed twang and all, one of the character’s Russian ex-girlfriend. Turning up at the edge of a night, she sweetly embodies the universe the rest of the film aspires to encompass, one of unguarded moments in emptying bars and swept-up restaurants.
"My Blueberry Nights" will be released in the US by the Weinstein Company.