Saturday, May 24, 2008


Written by Wong Kar Wai & Lawrence Block
Directed by Wong Kar Wai
Starring Norah Jones, Jude Law, Rachel Weisz, David Strathairn and Natalie Portman

Elizabeth: What’s wrong with the blueberry pie?
Jeremy: There’s nothing wrong with the blueberry pie; just people make other choices. You can’t blame the blueberry pie; it’s just … no one wants it.

It doesn’t get much more American than apple pie. I can’t say why that is exactly but that is what they say. And while blueberry most certainly isn’t apple, the reference to pie does make for an appropriate symbolic foundation for famed Chinese director, Wong Kar Wai’s first foray into American cinema, MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS. And he doesn’t just stop at pie. Kar Wai immerses himself in Americana, taking us on a road trip from New York to Missouri and Las Vegas, with shift work, gambling and heartache along for the ride. Sadly though, Kar Wai crossed the Pacific only to get lost in the Heartland for there is something else distinctly American about this film – it rests comfortably on the surface without much effort to go deeper and dresses itself up in pretty colors to hide it’s lack of profundity.

To solidify his position as a stranger in a strange land, Kar Wai casts singer, Norah Jones in her first acting role. Jones plays Elizabeth and Elizabeth is represented by the blueberry pie. It’s a perfectly good pie but no one seems to ever choose it when there are more traditional slices to be had. Blueberry is apparently the black sheep of pies, if you will. Elizabeth isn’t afraid to try something new though and so she adamantly chooses the neglected pie. Now, she need only learn how to do the same for herself. To learn how, she bolts across the country but while she searches for herself through countless sleepless nights, she finds character after character in worse shape than she. As she gets further and further from New York though, you know there’s only one place that makes sense for her to end up. It wouldn’t be a journey of self-discovery after all if you didn’t finish precisely where you started. Well, it would be if this were earlier Kar Wai but this is America, baby!

As Elizabeth, Jones is in a constant state of bewilderment. It is as though she was just born or just woke up to find the world has stopped making any sense. She looks uncomfortable, agitated, not unlike her stage presence from her earlier touring days. It isn’t clear whether this discomfort is her character or her lack of ability to develop one. It doesn’t help that she is surrounded by a supporting cast all on top of their game. Jude Law smolders as the man who serves her the blueberry pie. He is the guy who once got burned and hasn’t moved since. Rachel Weisz and David Strathairn are a couple on the brink of divorce. She has been hollowed by a disastrous marriage and he spends night after night numbing his pain with drink after drink. She is the nervous wreck to his wasted space. Elizabeth’s final encounter is with Leslie (Natalie Portman), a fast-talking, overly confident poker player. Portman has been better but still has plenty of tricks to teach Jones. Jones knows how to brood but her delivery is too often hollow. She is the mystery at the center of Kar Wai’s America but doesn’t inspire any desire to be solved.

MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS conjures a certain kind of mood. It captures the state of human damage that we all inevitably encounter at some point but only some figure out how to survive. Our initial instinct may be to run and we may do so by driving as far away as possible or staying still exactly where we are and never risking anything ever again. No matter what we do, the nights can get very lonely and if we’re lucky there is still pie to be had and someone to share it with. If we want to survive though, we must be brave enough to go home again. Now that Wong Kar Wai has gotten sufficiently lost, I think it is time for him to heed Elizabeth’s lesson and do the same.

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