Friday, May 2, 2008

This Pie Is Stale

Stale as week old pie, Wong Kar Wai’s My Blueberry Nights lacks all the luster expected from the top notch director. His first film set in the United States (and in the English language), Wong sets out to make a Wong-style American romance road movie. While the intentions may be good and the film’s heart is certainly in the right place, nothing comes across effectively. From the awkward pauses in dialogue to distractingly tangential segments, My Blueberry Nights and its many elements never add up.

Having just broke up with her boyfriend, Elizabeth (Norah Jones) meets Jeremy (Jude Law) who runs a homy diner in New York City. Here starts the in your face metaphors that pound their way through My Blueberry Nights. Jeremy keeps keys that patrons leave in the diner so that the doors always have a chance to be reopened. He offers Elizabeth a piece a blueberry pie, the most neglected pie in the diner. It is not that the pie is no good. It is just that it’s not what most people would want. On we go through fragmented sections of these regular visits between Elizabeth and Jeremy. Love curdles from the start, but something in Elizabeth is not quite ready so she hits the road.

Soon enough, Elizabeth (calling herself Lizzy) is waitressing in Memphis, where she observes Arnie (David Straitharn) drinking away the sorrows of his life, mostly because of his separation from his wife, Sue (Rachel Weisz). Later, Elizabeth (calling herself Beth) meets Leslie (Natalie Portman) in a casino. Leslie calls herself a great gambler, although from the bits we get to see, she is not quite what she says she is. These two stories take up the bulk of the film, while Elizabeth keeps writing to Jeremy in New York. I suppose somewhere in here she learns life lessons that attract her to Jeremy and ultimately lead her back to New York, but I never found these elements very evident. With each location, Elizabeth is attempting to redefine herself as a new person who is taking steps forward. However, these life lessons, so cliche among road films, are never made clear. Rather, the stories seem unnecessary tangents in the pie-crossed relationship of Jeremy and Elizabeth.

Aside from a strong performance by Portman, who seems to be the only performer in the film who works with Wong’s style, the rest of the cast seems out of place. Jones has a face that Wong adores, but whatever else he saw in her doesn’t translate. Straitharn and Weisz seem one-note and their story does little to move Elizabeth’s story; it seems more like a sidebar that leads to nothing. Law’s dreamlike bakery fits his attitude, but the overly dialogue driven script comes across as inauthentic. The script, coming from Wong and Lawrence Bender, is the big pitfall here. As much as the other elements of the film don’t add up, most of it is rooted in a dialogue driven, awkwardly delivered yet. Worse yet, the technically dazzling cinematography from Darius Khondji overwhelms the shallowness of the characters and seems out of place in this rather tame, poorly delivered film.

A disappointment from start to finish, if My Blueberry Nights is what gets the America-bug out of Wong’s system then maybe it can be seen as some bit of success, if only in propelling Wong back to where he is more comfortable. In a week where Wong’s first feature As Tears Go By gets its US theatrical premiere, My Blueberry Nights continues to play and show where Wong is now. Let’s all hope he takes a step back before taking another failed leap forward.

by James Hansen


Anonymous said...

Such a shame. Wong Kar-Wai was, by and large, one of the most exciting filmmakers out there, but his last couple of films have been lackluster at best.

I really hope working on Ashes of Time: Redux will rejuvinate the spirit of the WKW we all know and love.

Unknown said...

That is a shame. I love Wong's films, even 2046 which I had a hard time following before I finally gave up and let the mood and atmosphere draw me in. I was worried that his first foray into an English-language feature film would be lackluster. Still, to have Darius Khondji as your DP? I'll have to check this one out on DVD.