New York café manager Jeremy (Law) shares blueberry pies with Elizabeth (Jones), a depressed girl who takes off across the US. She sends him postcards about encounters with an alcoholic cop (Strathairn) obsessed with his estranged wife (Weisz) and a gambl
It’s easy to see why Wong Kar Wai was tempted to make a film in English. After establishing a solid arthouse reputation with his Hong Kong films - notably As Tears Go By, Chungking Express and In The Mood For Love - the prospect of new worlds to conquer must have been appealing.
Co-production partners always whisper that something without sub-titles is likelier to do better on the American market. And, like all movie-makers, Wong has a love-hate relationship with American pop culture (note how pop tunes recur in his film titles), an urge to work with at least semi-iconic English-speaking acting talent, and an understanding of the deep cinematic appeal of American cars, women, bars and supersize food portions.
With cinematographer Christopher Doyle, Wong has established a distinct look to his movies that have been much-imitated by other directors; on this American venture, he is partnered with Darius Khondji (known for the gloom of Se7en) but still deploys blurry close-ups of faces that just come into focus for the telling moment of expression, and near-fetishistic shots of pies, cars, jukeboxes and beautiful people that turn objects of desire into surreal landscapes.
However, he seldom pulls back to give a sense of the big spaces, which is odd in a film that wanders across the map, and the individual stories lumped together by Wong (and his bizarrely cast writing partner, hardboiled crime author Lawrence Block) feel trite and predictable. What’s more, the arch, clunky dialogue would read far better as subtitles than it sounds coming from the mouths of its cast.
That said, thanks to the talent involved, My Blueberry Nights isn’t a total disaster. Chanteuse Norah Jones shows real potential in her film debut, even if most of her big scenes find her listening to others doing their schtick. Sometimes, there’s an acting masterclass feel - Strathairn and Weisz give definitive lessons in ‘buttoned-up drunk’ and ‘blowsy self-pity’ - but too often, especially in the story with Portman as a gambling gal, there’s a sense that the connections aren’t quite sparking.
Far from a disaster, but it does feel like a footnote. Its difficult to see why the great director and very talented performers worked so hard to deliver such thin material.