My Blueberry Blah

My Blueberry Nights
Wong Kar Wai/2008/90min

I don't quite understand the blankets of praise piled upon Wong Kar Wai. To be fair, maybe I haven't given myself in to enough of his films. I've only seen 2 1/2 of them afterall. None have proven to me to be the Second Coming that so many cinephiles rave about. I saw In the Mood for Love several years ago, and the only thing that sticks with me is that bizzare ending with the rock formations. What was THAT about?!! 2046 makes any Tarkovsky look like Run Lola, Run. I turned it off halfway through. And My Blueberry Nights...well, it just kind of meanders. And maybe that's the point. It is a roadtrip picture afterall.

Norah Jones plays the scorned lover Elizabeth who decides to pack it up and head cross-country after learning her boyfriend was cheating on her. But not before striking up a friendship with the owner of a hole-in-the-wall diner. Her travels take her first to Memphis where she learns a lesson in forgiveness thanks to the crazy shenanigans of a local alcoholic sheriff and his freshly divorced wife. Then it's off to Reno where she learns the value of trust in the relationship of a compulsive gambler and her dying father. New lessons in hand, Elizabeth returns to the diner a year later to confess her love for its owner over a plate of blueberry pie and ice cream. The End.

Simplified, I know but let's face it, people watch Wong Kar Wai films for the overall look and aesthetic and here's where I have my biggest bone to pick. I was put off by the cinematography in this movie. Not by the colors or the framing, but by the choice to film certain portions of the movie using a hyper-stylized stuttering slow-motion technique. The idea, I suppose, is to give the movie a dream-like dimension. I found the liberal use of this creative choice distracting, and it pulled me out of the movie every time.

Kar Wai apparently got the idea for My Blueberry Nights after taking 2 different roadtrips across America. Yet, the whole movie plays like a foreigner's phony perception of Americana stereotypes. 50's-style diners tucked underneath overhead railways, convertibles on lonely stretches of desert highway, country bars and fistfights, and so on. It's all been done before, and better. Better acted too.

Much has been made of the casting of musician Norah Jones. Wai sought her out specifically for this role, and it's easy to tell why. She does have movie star looks. But her acting comes across as speaking meticulously rehearsed lines instead of embodying a character's actions and thoughts. Jude Law proves he's good for just about any role or character. And Natalie Portman, sporting one of those Southern accents that's only found on a movie set, is adquate enough here. The real acting award belongs to David Strathairn. Here's an actor who's always been around, but has lingered in the background like an awkward teen at a Jr. High dance. He never really has been given the praise he deserves even with his Oscar nomination just a few years ago. This is a performance that should've been talked about awards time, and he leaves the rest of his castmates in the dust.

There's more in the Wong Kar Wai filmography that requires exploration, and one of these days I'll get around to it. But from what I've seen so far, I'm just not convinced that should be anytime soon.


Dex said...

Yet, the whole movie plays like a foreigner's phony perception of Americana stereotypes.

i think that continues to be my biggest problem with the movie. wong kar-wai has such a finely honed sense of place - somewhat like jim jarmusch. outside of the jude law scenes, it just doesn't FEEL like it's anyplace, you know?

Dex said...

...all that said, i like it more than i did on initial viewings.

jude law - who is excellent in this, as is strathain - his bit at the beginning, about pies and relationships, is totally buddhist and plays all-so-well with me right now...i could watch those couple of scenes over and over again.

and natalie looks fuckin fantastic in that little blue number, yo.

nervenet said...

A-ron -
When your close personal friends at Criterion release Chungking Express this fall, you might make an effort to check that one out. I think it's exciting and funny and the visual effects you're talking about seem well used (though also used often, which might bug you). But overall, it's a good accessible "in" to WK-W. And for the record, I thought that In the Mood for Love was kind of a snooze, too. Beautiful, but I far preferred 2046, which maybe you'll like after you've seen more. Also recommended - Happy Together, though again Christopher Doyle goes nuts with the different film stocks and stylized lighting effects and stuff.

Joaquin said...

I would also highly recommend seeing Happy Together. Definitely my second favorite.

For the record, I found 2046 to be more of a snore than In the Mood for Love. For me, this will always be his greatest film, and so far the greatest 21st century love story told on celluloid.

1minutefilmreview said...

Nice post. We're WKW fans too.