My Blueberry Nights; in which director Wong Kar Wai makes the transition from making culty Chinese films that polarise audiences into making, well, a culty American film that has – thus far – polarised audiences. It’s a more artistically logical route to a Western audience than certain Asian peers who seem happy to abandon their distinctive style and become another faceless hack-for-hire whencrossing the ocean. If nothing else, My Blueberry Nights is unmistakably a Wong Kar Wai film. Put it this way: if you’ve been alienated by his last couple of lush romantic dramas, In The Mood For Love and 2046, you should stay away from this. However, if you’re unfamiliar with his work, this is the perfect jumping-on point being, by far, his most accessible effort to date.
Singer Norah Jones (in her first major acting role) plays the lead character, Elizabeth. We meet her in a café at the start of the film as she discovers – with some horror – that her boyfriend is cheating on her. Taking solace in blueberry pie and the company of kooky café owner Jeremy (Jude Law), she decides it’s time to embark on a trip across America to forget the ol’ broken heart whilst chronicling herjourney in the form of postcards to her new found friend.
This fairly familiar setup and the resultant odyssey through bars, cafés, motels and gambling joints is perhaps nothing new conceptually, but the stylised, almost dream-like treatment is unusual enough to make it fly. My Blueberry Nights spends its entire duration teetering on the brink of absolute absurdity but – astonishingly – manages to never quite tip over the edge. Instead, it’s fascinating and managedto engage me without distraction from beginning to end.
I can certainly see why it would split viewer opinion but I fall firmly into the ‘loving it’ camp. It’s a film of extremes; a story with principle themes of heartbreak, addiction and death that’s endlessly cheery in tone. A kitchen sink drama that plays like an epic fantasy. Indeed, everything about it is just a little off-centre. It’sclosest to its characters in scenes during which they’re filmed from afar. It’s drenched in faux-Americana that, whilst as authentic as a chocolate dime yet, somehow manages to capture the very essence of its setting with a wonderfully raw tenderness. It’s shot like a garish two-hour Budweiser advert and yet the relentless overstylising is what makes it so hypnotically beautiful.
This mass of contradictions keeps things feeling original and is why the 114 minute runtime passes in what feels like 30, in spite of a snail’s pace. It’s every bit as quirky, peculiar, sad, hopeful, awe-inspiring, surprising and – yes – as flawed as real life. Whilst being, of course, utterly unrealistic.
A unique and marvellous film.