July 16, 2008

My Blueberry Nights


Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): ****

Can a foreign-born filmmaker come to Hollywood without selling out? When established international filmmakers make their English language debut, the general consensus decrees that they've succumbed to the siren call of Hollywood, a longing for more money and fame. Another view is that Hollywood lures original talents to its shores so that it can squash them, keeping them under control so that it can still look like the movie king of the world. Of course, many other directors make a smooth transition and learn how to play the system. So what of Wong Kar-wai? He's certainly one of the world's most unique talents and seemingly not cut out for Hollywood rules and regulations. His English-language debut My Blueberry Nights was mostly received with disappointment. The general consensus is that it's not as good, or as deep, as his Hong Kong films. This view automatically assumes that "light" is inferior to "heavy." But the important thing is that My Blueberry Nights contains all of Wong's signature touches and that Hollywood did not strip any of them away.

Probably the main reason for the "lightness" complaint is the casting of pop star Norah Jones as the lead; in Hong Kong pop stars and movie actors are not so rigidly defined and are more easily interchangeable. As an actress Jones proves adequate but not outstanding; however, her co-stars more than make up for her (including a potent little scene with another pop star, Chan Marshall of Cat Power). Jude Law plays Jeremy, the proprietor of a New York diner whose blueberry pie is always left uneaten at the end of the night. Lizzie (Jones) drops in after a nasty breakup with her boyfriend and charms Jeremy just before she leaves on a road trip to discover herself (what better theme to bring to an American movie)? Along the way, she lands a temporary job as a waitress and meets a drunken cop, Arnie (David Strathairn), heartbroken over the fact that his wife Sue Lynne (Rachel Weisz) has left him. The film almost sides with the sad-sack cop, until one potent scene in which Sue Lynne explains her side of the story (which Wong films outside, at night, where a gathering thunderstorm can be heard in the distance).

Further down the road, this time in the open, bright desert light, Lizzie meets gambler Leslie (Natalie Portman), with a twangy accent and a wrist full of tingling bracelets. Meanwhile, romantic Jeremy patiently awaits her return, reserving a stool for her at the counter. While it's true that Jones isn't very dynamic onscreen, it follows that Lizzie isn't a very active character; she more or less goes with the wind. As with Wong's other films, mood is the most important thing, and the spaces, colors and sounds that serve to keep people missing each other. Here, windows and lights reflected therein constantly remind us just how close, but how far apart, we really are from one another.

Perhaps the film's most peculiar touch is the screenplay co-written by hard-boiled crime novelist Lawrence Block. At a glance, he seems the wrong guy to create dialogue for such a delicate, quiet film. But his kind of snappy, crunchy dialogue is really about mistrust and misdirection, covering up genuine emotions with crafty wordplay, and it, too, works beautifully. While Wong's masterpiece In the Mood for Love took place all in a contained space with only two key players, My Blueberry Nights spreads itself out on a much thinner crust. But if one takes a moment to really savor it, it can yield the same great flavor. I guess it's only natural that Wong, the master of missed connections, can sometimes miss connecting with his critics.

My Blueberry Nights premiered at Cannes in a 111-minute cut, but the U.S. release version runs only 95. Neither the U.S. Region 1 DVD from The Miriam Collection, nor the imported Region 3 DVD, contains any deleted scenes. But, oddly, each version is slightly different. The U.S. version includes insert shots counting out the days that Lizzie is on the road, or the occasional shot of a train zooming by. The import version does not include these, but runs a bit longer, suggesting that perhaps the Weinsteins once again meddled with a work of art. But the U.S. DVD comes with more and better extras, so both DVDs are recommended.

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Posted by cphillips at July 16, 2008 12:20 PM

Nice review. Loved the film, we're WKW fans too.

Posted by: 1minutefilmreview at July 18, 2008 10:55 AM
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