Friday, March 28, 2008

My Blueberry Nights

Lizzie (Norah Jones) is a young woman living in New York who has just broken up with her boyfriend. She finds solace talking to Jeremy (Jude Law), the owner of a restaurant which she starts to frequent and she spends several nights talking with Jeremy about love and life over slices of blueberry pie. However, having only just met each other, Lizzie and Jeremy are separated when Lizzie takes off on a journey across America, encountering a separated couple (David Straitharn and Rachel Weisz) and a distrustful poker player (Natalie Portman).

'My Blueberry Nights' is the English-language debut of Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai, whose previous credits include 'In The Mood For Love' and 'Chungking Express' and the film shares a number of similarities with his earlier work; it's beautifully shot and the director makes great use of sensuous colours, particularly red, and the story deals with a number of themes present in his other work, particularly the fragility of human relationships. Sadly, though, the final product isn't up to snuff.

Firstly, there's the script, co-written by Wai and Lawrence Block, which veers between turgid philosophising and forced small talk. The whole thing feels terribly over-written and just doesn't seem to get to the emotions of the characters. Fortunately they have good sense to drop the dreadful pie metaphor that surfaces early in the film, though they do reprise an even more appalling metaphor about doors and keys, but the characters never seem to be interacting with each other, they just seem to be actors in a rather wonderfully lit play.

Having said that, the performers do the best they can with the script and their respective acting abilities. Norah Jones is quite good in her acting debut as Lizzie, in that she is not as terrible as some musicians-turned-actors have been in the past, but she is a tad bland. Though that's not really her fault since all she is required to do is look a bit sorrowful whilst other characters Emote with a capital E. Jude Law is also quite engaging, even if his initial non-descript English accent changes when he reveals his character is meant to be from Manchester, at which point he adopts an unconvincing general Northern brogue which I personally found really distracting.

Speaking of bad accents, Rachel Weisz is lumbered with the unfortunate burden of having the second most emotionally demanding role in the film, the female half of a separated married couple in Memphis, Tennessee, and a very mannered Southern belle accent. Much like Ray Winstone in The Departed, she can do a passable accent but she can't really sell the emotion, so her performance ultimately comes off rather more forced than it probably deserved. David Straitharn, though, is great as Weisz's estranged husband, a cop who is slowly drinking himself to death, and his scenes in the bar that Jones finds herself working in are easily the most interesting and engaging in the film, particularly once Weisz shows up. Natalie Portman is Natalie Portman; a bit wooden but not too bad to look at.

For all these criticisms, I didn't hate My Blueberry Nights, I just didn't find it interesting. That's not to say it was boring; the various little episodes of the film went by at a brisk pace and the central relationship between Lizzie and Jeremy, played out over postcards and lingering stares, did keep my interest, it just didn't really affect me emotionally, though there are a few moments in it that hint at what could have been.

It's hamstrung by a shoddy script and some poor casting choices, but 'My Blueberry Nights' is a pleasant enough little film that's lovely to look at but doesn't really have anything going on underneath. Here's hoping that Wong Kar Wai's next venture into English-language film-making is more assured, since his talents and those of his cast are apparent, even if they are squandered.