Director: Wong Kar-wai
Starring: Norah Jones, Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Rachel Weisz, David Strathairn
Wong Kar Wai’s first English Language film, My Blueberry Nights revolves around Elizabeth (Norah Jones), a broken-hearted young woman who can’t bring herself to face her ex-boyfriend when she discovers that he’s seeing someone else. Striking up a friendship with Jeremy (Jude Law), a young cafe owner whose restaurant is nearby her ex’s apartment, she confides in him her insecurities, oblivious to his interest. Spontaneously leaving New York, she sets out on a trip across America and discovers the many different meanings of love and loss, shaping her perspective.
Director Wong follows his previous films by casting a non-actor in the lead role and the results are great. Norah Jones is a natural as Elizabeth and gives a compelling performance in her vulnerability and naivety. Beautiful and human, she displays true growth and her performance reminded me of Faye Wong in the exceptional Chungking Express. Having been a big fan of her music, to see this side of her only deepened my appreciation of her, seemingly, myriad of talents. Jude Law keeps it solid as the charming and well-spoken Jeremy. He doesn’t have many scenes with Jones, except for the beginning and the end, but he is able to generate real chemistry and develop his character’s history. Rounding out the cast; David Strathairn gives an absolutely great turn as a hard-drinking husband dealing with the disintegration of his marriage to Sue Lynn (Rachel Weisz). This segment is very human and tragic and honestly, I could watch an entire film revolving around these characters. Natalie Portman has a decent enough role as a fast talking and street savvy poker player. Her character is very important to Elizabeth’s growth, but something about her mannerisms and character choices made me dislike the character. I typically like Portman in many of her roles and it is a testament to her acting ability to create such a character that was so against type. Cat Power, another terrific singer, also makes her film debut as Jeremy’s ex; she delivers her lines well and is able to create a very realistic and adult turn in her very small role.
The film is beautifully shot and I was surprised to discover that longtime collaborator Christopher Doyle was not the cinematographer, but instead Darius Khondji. The film certainly feels like Doyle’s work, with many telltale Wong shots, like reflected images, shots through windows, and neon sign framing. It fits well with Wong’s style and the film is beautiful. The soundtrack, always something to look forward to when Wong is concerned, features great cuts from not only Norah Jones and Cat Power, but legends Mavis Staples, Ry Cooder, and Otis Redding. Also featured is recent favorite Amos Lee, as well as blues-tinged covers of Yumeji’s Theme, a song that will be instantly recognizable among fans of Wong’s previous films.
Not without faults, the film does feel a bit rushed, even at 111 minutes, but the investment in characters is given enough time to develop. Some slightly cheesy dialogue populates some of the scenes between Law and Jones’ characters towards the beginning, but it does mellow out into more compelling fare. Overall, the film may not be the best that Wong Kar Wai has ever done, but it is nonetheless an engaging and very human drama anchored by solid performances, a fantastic soundtrack, and expert direction. Certainly worth your time, My Blueberry Nights is a solid entry in Wong Kar Wai’s already stellar filmography.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Chungking Express, The Follow, and/or Shanghai