My Blueberry Nights Review
In Wong Kar Wai's English language debut, he makes the schoolboy error of casting Jude Law as his romantic lead. Jude Law. What the devil happened? Do you think he regrets shagging that nanny? Forever branded, at least in my head, as the nanny-shagging creepy womaniser, it's a far cry from his youthful promise. And now even when he's playing a nice character - who is damned before he even speaks by being named Jeremy - he still seems slimy.
Jeremy (Law) works in a cafe in New York, where every night a pretty young woman Elizabeth (Jones) drops in for a chat and a slice of blueberry pie and ice cream (why she isn't the size of a house is anyone's guess). Jeremy is smitten with her, and likes watching her sleep, lips glistening with ice cream grease. But after her relationship ends badly, Elizabeth (now known variously as Beth, Betty, Lizzie etc) sets off on a voyage of discovery - and recovery - across America. Her first port of call is Memphis, Tennessee, but instead of going to Graceland - and who wouldn't be cheered up by the thought of Elvis eating himself to death? - she decides to work herself to exhaustion by doing two jobs. Betty seems articulate and presentable, but she goes for the easiest kind of work - waitressing - by day in a diner and at night in a bar. All human life, sooner or later, comes to a bar, and she is soon caught up in the tragedy of Arnie (Strathairn), an alcoholic cop, and Sue Lynne (Weisz), his estranged wife.
Moving West, like all pioneers, Lizzie gets a job bartending in a Nevada casino where she meets Leslie (Portman), a down-on-her luck poker addict. Leslie persuades Beth to help her by staking her for one last play, but when Leslie loses, agrees to give her the brand new Jaguar that she is driving. Older and a little wiser, Elizabeth returns to New York, a piece of pie, and Jeremy's waiting arms.
Wong Kar Wai is famous for his beautiful, languorously shot films (In The Mood For Love, 2046), and he attempts to bring this sensibility west in My Blueberry Nights. Maybe its just that we don't associate New York with languor, but it seems like a mismatch. The slo-mo rapidly grates, as do the lighting effects, and the film feels much, much longer than its 90 odd minutes.
Apart from my extreme antipathy towards Mr Law, the rest of the cast are fine. Norah Jones is pretty and wide-eyed and plays the ingenue well enough, if a bit stiffly, though she is given an annoying and unnecessary voice over - nothing that Beth does is so hard to understand that it needs explaining - show don't tell - first rule of filmmaking. Portman, Weisz and Strathairn are all very good; Weisz is uncharacteristically cast as a femme fatale, initially cold and spiteful, but ultimately sympathetic (and beautifully dressed). Portman is also a little cow, and does it very well, while Straithairn succeeds in making Arnie at once appealing and pathetic. But in the end it's a road trip - and a mopey one at that - that ends, oddly and abruptly, in Vegas - it seems a bit odd that Lizzie doesn't make it to Los Angeles, the ultimate city of lost souls, before heading back east. And the chunks of philosophising dropped in by Beth and Jeremy are disappointingly banal and cheesy. It looks ravishing, as you'd expect, but it's about as deep as a puddle.
Oh, and if you aren't a fan of Norah Jones' music (memorably described by Alex Petridis in The Guardian as 'the sort of music that middle managers from Basingstoke put on in the background when they think they're going to get their leg over') then be warned that she features, naturally, on the soundtrack...