My Blueberry Nights: Film Review

Directed by: Wong Kar-wai, Runtime: 95 minutes
Grade: B

Cinema as pure poetry in motion never made much sense to me, until I was exposed to Wong Kar-Wai's In The Mood For Love. Sure, I had seen certain mild and beautiful arthouse romances before, but they always seemed too engorged in their own efforts to indulge themselves that they failed to impress my slightly skewed view on "real" love. Then, one of the true masters of subtlety and passion enchanted me with his story of star-crossed infatuates lamenting over the depressive questionability of their marriages. As most were, my completely hooked nature over In The Mood For Love, alongside other personal favorites Chungking Express and Fallen Angels, had me excited to see what brevity he would bring upon his audience with his first English language picture, My Blueberry Nights.

What he brings us is something of a different flavor, no pun intended. Instead of choosing to drive a stake in our hearts and twist it about with the romanticism and churning passion between some tangibly troubled souls, Wong Kar-Wai's most recent film gravitates closer to a polarizing outlook on strangers and individuality than on the bonds formed through romance. Though it sounds heavier than his other work, strangely it turns out to be the opposite. My Blueberry Nights shows a softer, more lackadaisical side to this filmmaker's auteur powers, resulting in an easygoing and affectionate tale that focuses more on the stranger in the corner that shies away from making the kind of scenes that Wong Kar-Wai typically bathes in his gorgeously achieved visual design.

This stranger I refer to is Elizabeth, played by enchanting musician Norah Jones. She's a simple, honest girl with modest desires and a radiant heart - which just so happens to have been broken by, and this should come as no surprise to Kar-Wai enthusiasts, an unfaithful lover. The last time he was seen happens to be at a corner café in New York, owned by a waywardly placed ex-marathon runner Jeremy (Jude Law, Closer). Elizabeth's struggle with Jeremy over her ex-lover, as well as the fate of his keys, transforms into a weeks-long friendship that causes each of our main character's trials and highpoints to surface within poetic resonance inside their banter. Ah, this isn't happily ever after, though; instead of taking the easy route and sulking into another potentially harmful relationship, Elizabeth takes the road less traveled and disappears into the sunrise before their relationship can peak.

My Blueberry Nights is just getting started with its pathway, measured in miles and days that she strays away from that colorful corner café in New York. The core of Kar-Wai's film focuses on Elizabeth and not necessarily how she develops along the way, but how she impacts (and doesn't impact) the lives of those somewhat lost souls that she interacts with. She rubs elbows as a waitress in a Memphis bar with struggling alcoholic Arnie (David Strathairn, Good Night and Good Luck) fighting to regain his marriage to his promiscuous wife Sue Lynne (Rachel Weisz, The Fountain), along the way witnessing the loneliness and depression that comes with the territory when hiding behind our vices. Both Weisz and Strathairn make the most of their lack of chemistry within their eruptions, but Weisz takes her character to another level by giving her typically reserved and bookworm-ish charisma a feisty dash of spice. Straithairn, however, has an eerie effect with the solidity of his performance as a weathered alcoholic, one that felt faithful and haunting in the same breath.

Heavy focus on our necessary weaknesses is a key factor in the humanizing elements in My Blueberry Nights, and they all rain through beautifully as Elizabeth's pathway takes us from a sleepy little town with a busybody sort of bar to the shimmering lights of a casino outside of Vegas that draws close some of the more venomous creatures of our world. One of such biting characters is a raspy poker ace named Leslie, carried with gusto by Natalie Portman (Garden State). If Elizabeth was learning about the earnest nature of relationships when she absorbed Arnie and Sue Lynne's misfired bickering, then she was receiving a crash course in the fabric of distrust by soaking in Leslie's jaded scheming. Wong Kar-Wai crafts an interesting parallel between our honest weaknesses and the bizarre strength that they also stake within those that embody said problems. His analysis upon her character is a little thicker than her simplicity can really support, but the effects of Elizabeth's disarming honesty upon Leslie make up for it.

It's hard to throw together a review for a Wong Kar-Wai film without delving into its symbolism and compelling devices, which applies to My Blueberry Nights to equal measure. He uses the time mechanic, the separation of miles and days from New York, to give a sense of elasticity to Elizabeth's attachment to the central location for the film. With it, we feel that pull as she scours the land stretching in front of her for the resonance that she lacked when we first met her. It's all about experience, which is the great thing about Kar-Wai's efforts with this particular film. There's little bits to take away from the picture, but ultimately its more of a unobtrusive and laid back journey film that merely lets us in on the fact that the highly animated characters of our world, the Arnie's and Leslie's, aren't the only ones who soak in the ambiguous and twisted nature of this problematic and cynical existence.

Part of My Blueberry Nights' velvety splendor comes from the beauty to be seen down this pathway Elizabeth treks on to find herself. Wong Kar-Wai teams up with director of photography Darius Khondji, responsible for Jeunet's moody pieces Delicatessen and City of Lost Children, to craft a visual treat rife with lush palettes and sweeping shots that capture the abundant characters' eccentric and emotive movements. He spends his time separated behind some very familiar close-quartered facial shots and Kar-Wai's signature slow shutter-speed captures. Oh, but the color present here is ever so much in line with Wong Kar-Wai's eye in his other works, most closely resembling 2046 in its neon palette. Having the more leisurely rhythm of the story paves way for the smashing visuals and, as always, phenomenal soundtrack infused with jazzy chords and vocals.

My Blueberry Nights' potent essence, however, pivots completely around the effort of rookie actress Norah Jones, who carries Elizabeth with just enough subdued attitude and warmth to keep her believable as the girl in the shadows who we want to grow to love. She's got a certain kind of charisma that still shines through as she's overshadowed by the likes of Natalie Portman and Jude Law. It makes following her pathway of growth throughout My Blueberry Nights a worthwhile experience that's as comfortable and amiable as can be. Wong Kar-Wai's first English language film is a smooth yarn dyed with radiant colors, one that neglects to hit hard with its emotional punch but counterbalances with an experience that is akin to delving into a rich slice of pie. You know there's stuff with more substance out there, but boy does this particular slice of familiar flavor still taste sweet.


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