Considering the pedigree of Wong Kar Wai’s back catalogue – Chung King Express (1991), In The Mood For Love (2000) et al – My Blueberry Nights comes as a disappointing and uninspiring English-language debut from such an undeniably talented filmmaker. With such impressive names involved, both behind and in front of the camera, it is difficult to determine how so much talent led to something so insubstantial.
Newcomer Norah Jones (whose own music is, questionably, part of the soundtrack) plays Elizabeth, a young American unlucky in love who travels across those States United, working double shifts to force her mind from her broken heart. She meets Jude Law’s Jeremy in a small New York café, where they bond over leftover, unloved blueberry pie. Later, Elizabeth sends Jeremy postcards from her travels, talking about all the people she meets along the way. Among these is David Strathairn, who gives it his all as an alcoholic, jealous husband mourning his separation from an equally impassioned Rachel Weisz. Yet despite enthusiastic performances from the cast, all effort is lost amid the film’s uncertain direction and uncomfortable, jarring style.
Featuring an assortment of distracting editing techniques and bizarre music choices, the entire thing comes across like a student short on a budget, disregarding requirements of length (it is surely no coincidence that it is based on a short film Kar Wai made around the time of In The Mood For Love). Though not dissimilar to the director’s usual approach, what’s damaging is that in an American setting everything feels somehow cheapened. This could also, in part, be down to the absence of regular cinematographer Christopher Doyle.
For a film based around a girl on the road, very little of America is actually seen. It is instead the small relationships Elizabeth develops between those around her that form the structure, and her observation of their individual flaws that look to realign her. The problem is that these simplified, one-on-one encounters are nowhere near original nor involving enough to earn our care and attention. We learn next to nothing about the characters, to the extent that they are all presented as miserable stereotypes, etching out a miserable existence across an uncaring America. Natalie Portman’s gambler is one hollow soul too many, and from Las Vegas the film struggles to find a way home.
One wonders how differently things might have looked had the film been made in the director’s native tongue, for the trite dialogue, however well delivered, comes across as trashy nonsense and even, at times, comedic when said aloud. It is as if translation has deflated all sincerity and meaning. Jones’ voice over, reading the postcards she has sent to Jeremy, is awkward and at odds with the tone. Their relationship is neither believable nor satisfying, and has left the viewer cold come the inevitable denouement.
On the plus side, the vivid reds and blurry lights of New York take full advantage of the film’s high definition presentation. When Kar Wai steadies his shot, his is a beautiful looking picture. Extra features, however, are thin on the ground. 10,279 Miles Since HK is a slight making of, featuring interviews with Kar Wai and the cast. Here, somewhat puzzlingly, the director talks about how he wanted to explore the four corners of America and see all the places that Elizabeth journeys to. More tellingly, he recalls how his fascination with diners and bars, the staples of American culture, informed the writing of the script, which changed dramatically during shooting. Also included is the 2007 press conference in Cannes, with Kar Wai and Jones answering questions prior to the film’s theatrical release. Finally, a short featurette called Character Study finds the cast talking through their wafer thin characters.
Ultimately, this is a frustrating experience and a missed opportunity, a predictable mood piece lacking almost entirely in atmosphere. Fans will be hoping for an improvement with Kar Wai’s next, a remake of 1947’s The Lady From Shanghai.
Film –Extras –