Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

The fist film from Chinese director Kar Wai Wong I ever saw was 1991’s ‘Days of Being Wild’, which I will admit I acquired that movie only because I had just seen Tony Leung in the film ‘Hard Boiled’ and was interested in seeing more of that actors work. Naturally if one goes into a ‘Days of Being Wild’ expecting another ‘Hard Boiled’, one would be immensely disappointed but oddly enough I found ‘Days of Being Wild’ an oddly enchanting film and introduced me another side of Chinese cinema that didn’t include double fisted handguns, arterial spray and flying doves. ‘My Blueberry Nights’ is Wong’s first English language film which, if nothing else, is a signature Kar Wai Wong film.

Somewhere in New York City we are introduced to Jeremy (Jude Law), who runs a local bakery, when a distraught young woman named Elizabeth, played by singer Norah Jones in fist major film role, is frantically quizzing Jeremy about her boyfriend who she suspects is keeping company with another and using his establishment as a meeting place. Jeremy informs the girl that this is indeed the case which leads to a unique relationship between the British born bakery operator and the broken-hearted woman where he tells her stories and he gives her ice cream and blueberry pie. After a series of meetings, Elizabeth decides her best course of action to cure her pain is to get as far away from New York as possible, so she jumps on a greyhound and starts her odyssey to destinations unknown

Among her stops, Elizabeth ends up in a Memphis bar where she works as a barmaid and meets an alcoholic Police Office named Arnie (David Strathairn), who drinks his life away every night while longing for his trollop of a wife Sue Lynn (Rachel Weisz). Sue Lynn, however, just wants to be free of the man and his smothering, wishing to spend quality time with her new male friends she’s made around town. Merely standing on the outside, Elizabeth observes this extremely dysfunctional relationship, all the while keeping correspondence with Jeremy back in New York through postcards.

Eventually Elizabeth will arrive in a small town in Arizona, as she makes her way across the United States via Greyhound, saving up money here and there to hopefully buy a car. While waiting tables at a local gambling blind pig she meets Leslie (Natalie Portman), a young card shark who apparently never listened to much Kenny Rogers when she was a kid or she known well in advance to fold ‘em. As circumstance would have it Leslie finds herself indebted to Elizabeth which will lead to the two young women to embark on little road trip to Las Vegas where Leslie has her own family demons to deal with.

With almost a year on the road under her belt and better understanding of her inner self, Elizabeth’s trip will come full circle as we hope she has finally learned how to let go, and maybe even enjoy a piece of blueberry pie with someone has been keeping her plate warm all the while she was gone. Or something.

‘My Blueberry Nights’ is an atypical Wong film with its beautiful photography, wonderful music, quiet moments of introspection and tortured characters. The film also is slow, often uninvolving, and places a lot of weight in you caring about the damaged characters you are watching. Watching this particular film is almost like looking a pretty piece of art from behind a velvet rope that you aren’t allowed to touch. Is this a bad thing? I’m not quite sure as I attempt to process what I have seen. The characters that Wong has created, working with novelist Lawrence Block, are interesting but they, their behaviors and their actions don’t seem real to me. However this is offset by the lyrical nature of the film which sets a great tone and is very self-assured. The performances are very good with Rachel Weisz playing a multi-layered tramp about as well as anybody. Not to insult the Academy Award winning beauty, but she certainly has the body to play a tramp, that’s for damn sure. I will admit that Jude Law’s character wierded me out a bit as he did a couple of things in this movie that I construed as a violation of personal space, but that’s just little ol’ uptight me. I can see why Wong cast Norah Jones as she has a very sad set of eyes that are full of expression and regret, even though she’s not much of an actress yet. It’s not that she’s bad actress but I think Wong recognized her limitations and inexperience and worked his story around those limitations and this was for the most part effective, allowing Strathairn, Wesiz and Portman to do the heavier lifting.

Fans of Wai Kar Wong won’t be too disappointed in ‘My Blueberry Nights’ as this is a film very similar to the films he done in the past, if a not little less cohesive than his previous work. Those not familiar with the filmmaker’s movies may find the film a tad on the slow side and difficult to get into. Somewhere in between is where I fall in my feelings about this film, happy to see a master at work, but not as satisfied with it as I would have liked to have been.

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