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My Blueberry Nights

Genre: , ,

Cast: Norah Jones, Rachel Weisz, Jude Law, David Strathairn, Tim Roth, Natalie Portman, Ed Harris

Director: Kar Wai Wong

Rated: NR

Release Date: July 1st, 2008
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Overall Grade: B-

My Blueberry Nights

Review By: Staff

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My Blueberry Nights

My Blueberry Nights is Hong Kong critical darling Wong Kar Wai's first English-language feature and while his masterstroke as a stylist maintains its razor sharp edge, his gift for storytelling feels lost in translation. The usual themes of loneliness and despair typically found in his films are still evident, sometimes treated with the same degree of expertise, but expressed with less conviction and organized with less fluidity. Most Kar Wai films blend ecstasy with tragedy in their own characteristic rhythm. His latest work is only brilliant in slices.

The story is based off one of Kar Wai's short films about Jeremy, a lonely diner employee who falls in love with Elizabeth, another jaded romantic. This time, the director enlists pretty boy Jude Law and singer/songwriter (and first time actress) Norah Jones to take charge of the leading roles. After several late night visits over blueberry pie and conversations about lost love, Elizabeth embarks on a cross-country journey to find meaning in her life. Along the way, she meets other lost romantic souls including an alcoholic police officer (David Strathairn), his ex-wife (Rachel Weisz), and a high-risk gambler (Natalie Portman). She reports back to Jeremy through letters about the lessons she is learning.

The results feel more calculated then they should and casting is the root cause. The film is doomed in the first act by a sub par performance by Jones. In an interview discussing his controversial decision to cast a singer in the leading role, Kar Wai explains his reasoning by pointing out that all performers have exceptional personalities containing an emotional rhythm not found in most people. The director's instinct is admirable, but partially flawed. Yes, a singer can have an interesting face and a knack for rhythm, but what about the other crucial performance intangibles? Performers who are musically inclined have an understanding of their audience, but what about the people surrounding them on screen? What about the important role of social interaction? Dialogue?

The film suffers in the first act because all eyes are on Jones and her screen chemistry with Jude Law. Their scenes together are awkward and misguided, void of any romance or passion. When Law goes to kiss crumbs off her lips while she is sleeping, the results are more creepy than whimsical. Their interactions have a nervous edge of discomfort that never leaves the screen. Their interactions through letters come off as flat and clichéd.

As a performer on the screen, Jones functions stronger when acting as the observer, not the observed. When the film shifts focus in the second act on new characters she meets on the road, her performance works because she emotes less. The movie is partially saved from

disaster by a brilliant performance by David Strathairn. He channels his inner Bogart, leaning over the counter of a bar with a stature that begs for love but a voice that asks to be left alone. Through these scenes, Strathairn is able to provide the film's emotional peak. "I am the king of the white chips," says his character, describing with sadness the many times he has received coins from AA meetings after failed attempts to quit drinking. He is haunted by the downfall of his marriage, constantly reminded by his ex-lover's daily presence at the same bar.

Later, after the plot brings Strathairn's character a graceful exit, we get his wife's perspective. Despite an elegant monologue by Rachel Weisz, the emotions feel contrived when juxtaposed with earlier scenes. What is supposed to come off as a moment of emotional clarity comes off as a character making excuses for what she has done. We are supposed to feel for her, but we still feel for her husband. In the film's third act, Natalie Portman has similar trouble gaining our sympathy.

The problem here is that My Blueberry Nights has too many familiar faces. A movie with this tone and this scale should not have so many stars. As the scenes progress, each performer vastly overshadows the main character. The ending of the film, a rendezvous between Jeremy and Elizabeth, is unsatisfying because we care more about the people she left behind than her own chance at love. Natalie Portman and Rachel Weisz are bigger than their roles and Norah Jones is smaller than hers. The people making the advertisements for the film seemed to understand this well, giving all three women equal space, but placing Jones at the bottom of the billing.

My cynicism towards performance should not overshadow the beauty of Wong Kar Wai's style. Watching My Blueberry Nights often feels like experiencing the work of a visual poet. Consider the minor glory of a shot early in the film in which we are looking at Elizabeth seated in the diner talking to Jeremy about her problems. Suddenly, the spray of Jeremy's window cleaner blurs the shot and we learn our point of view has been obscured by pie shop glass. Quickly, he wipes away the liquid, bringing Elizabeth back into clear view. The moment sets up a nice visual metaphor about Jeremy's role in bringing clarity to Elizabeth's life. This is one of many details scattered throughout the film that make even the weakest scenes worth paying attention to.

Audiences can find more rewarding examples of Kar Wai's mastery in some of his other films that carry the same themes as My Blueberry Nights but with more satisfying results. Newcomers are advised to view the modern classic Chunking Express

or is similarly enchanting In the Mood for Love for better results.

The special features of My Blueberry Nights include a fascinating interview with Wong Kar Wai where audiences can get a grasp of the filmmaker's intent in making the film. Kar Wai is a great mind and his responses to questions are a stimulating dose of theory and analysis about the art of film. Also included in the bonus materials are a documentary about the making of the film that includes interviews with the cast and and a gallery that offers many of the films beautiful still images on rich display.

Movie Grade: C+

DVD Features Grade: A-

Overall Grade: B-

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