Movie Review – My Blueberry Nights
– Summary –
Director : Wong Kar-wai
Cast : Norah Jones, Jude Law, Natalie Portman, David Strathairn, Rachel Weisz
Year Of Release : 2007
Length : 100 Minutes
Synopsis: A young woman leaves New York after a relationship break-up, encountering numerous lost souls on her cross-country odyssey, only to discover that perhaps her true love remains back at a small cafe in the Bronx, where she spends a few nights eating blueberry pie and chatting about… stuff. Seriously, what an idiot.
Review : Boring, pointless film about boring, pointless people, told in a cinematic style that borders on narcoleptic filmmaking of the highest order. Dismal, depressing, and utterly contrived, I felt like turning it off about half way through. For me, not a good sign. Jude Law is the only shining light in this debacle.
Lumbering, frustratingly shot “drama” film starring songbird Norah Jones, and resident hottie Jude Law, about a girl who has to travel the length of America just to figure herself out. A kind of emotional road-trip, if you will, that’s beset with banal dialogue and a lacklustre, tedious narrative. The film begins with Jude Law, as Jeremy, the owner of a cafè who keeps the keys people leave behind. One night, Elizabeth (Jones) shows up to find her boyfriend, only to discover he’s been cheating on her. Soon, Jeremy and Elizabeth strike a chord with each other, over the leftover blueberry pie in Jeremy’s cake display. Each night their ritual continues, she arrives just on closing time to talk, and discuss the meaning of life and love… etc. Unfortunately, Elizabeth decides to embark upon a cross-country trip to find herself, leaving Jeremy with no clue as to where she’s going or when (if ever) she’ll be back. Along the way, Elizabeth encounters a drunk divorcee (Strathairn), his ex-wife (Weisz), a lonely gambler (Portman) with daddy issues, and undergoes something of an emotional epiphany. Each of the people she meets have a profound impact on her, and after a while, no doubt bored of all their sanctimonious crap, she heads back to New York City where everybody is nice and normal.
My Blueberry Nights is a chore of a film, something akin to having your teeth pulled without the happy gas. It’s a cinematic disaster, from the overwrought performances from everybody (except Jude Law, who happens to be fabulous) to the stupefyingly cloying cinematography, to the eclectic (and befuddlingly inane) musical choices. Director Wong Kar-wai hails from the Chinese art-house scene, and is something of an underground legend in his home country. In his attempt to bring his apparently “unique” visual style to the Western mainstream, he’s forgotten that audiences here actually need, oh, a story, and some characters you actually like to watch. In Blueberry, even Norah Jones manages to be contemptibly dull, and she can barely act to save her life. She’s attractive, sure, but she’s given a lesson in acting that borders on the painful to watch. Kar-wai seems to want to direct this film through a window: his framing and camerawork are almost illegibly dense and odd, and the impact is overwhelmingly bizarre. I think it has something to do with reflections, but I’m not sure I want to know. Jones states in her interview on the DVD that the film is “eye candy”; well honey, maybe this is a little like sauerkraut to me, but there’s something eye-bustingly painful about having to watch a film that seems to have been shot through a public toilet window. There’s all kinds of stuff that continuously gets in the way of the actors, hiding their faces and obstructing our view of what’s going on, almost as if Kar-wei wants us to have to struggle to become connected with these people.Walls, furniture, other people, opaque windows, whatever they could find to film behind, they did. And, Mr Wong Kar-wai, its awful. For example, check out the logo at the top of this review…. notice how the movie title obscures the kiss in the image? I did this on purpose to demonstrate a point. Imagine this for an hour and a half. I know you’re supposed to be this big-shot auteur director with loads of clout in your home country, but man, learn to frame a shot. Wobbly angles and stupid staging only frustrate an audience looking to connect with the characters.
The angles and camera techniques on display here are at best random, and at worst second rate. My opinion, I know, but there you have it. And coupled with the dissonant camerawork is the rather turgid, melodramatic plot and ill-conceived central twist of this woman’s journey of self-discovery: it’s so frickin’ boring you’re asleep by the time she figures out who she really likes (hint, it’s Jude Law!). It’s kind of like a ratcheted down midday movie plot, drunken gamblers and trailer trash included. Portman, going blonde this time around, seems to be struggling to act like an adult stuck in a teenagers body: I’m sorry, but she still looks like she should be in high school. And casting her as some world-weary gambling addict is like casting Macauley Culkin in the role of James Bond. Her grating, teeth grinding performance manages to suck what little life is left in this mess and reduce it to a rancid, steaming pile of pulp. It’s like she’s doing a B-grade rendition of Susan Sarandon, which wouldn’t normally be too bad, but here, its mind-numbingly awful.
Poor Rachel Weisz: apparently they rescheduled her filming days in this movie so she had time to give birth to her first kid, but I hate to say, this isn’t the kind of film that’s going to do great things for her career. She’s woefully miscast as the slutty, wanton harlot of Memphis, recently separated wife from David Strathairns alcoholic policeman. At first I thought she’d bring a semblance of class to the film (after all, its not going so great from the outset) but instead, she goes from self-righteous slag to emotionally crippled “I’m so sad” in a heartbeat when her ex offs himself (oh bugger, maybe I gave away part of the film! Who cares!) and it ruins the momentum of the movie. Are we supposed to care for this woman, or aren’t we? The film doesn’t seem to want to let us figure it out, it’s so busy trying to manipulate us.
And poor Strathairn: he’s up for the challenge as the alcoholic cop, but the script gives him nothing. Instead, and it’s not Strathairn’s fault, we get a clichéd character devoid of anything new on screen. Strathairn plays him as best he can, and there’s a moment where you actually feel for the guy, but in the end, you kinda want to go up and slap the crap out of him and tell him to get on with his life. She’s not worth it, you scream at the screen, but it’s no use. The movie carries on regardless. So hopelessly turgid are the scenes set in this bar (where Strathairn and Weisz have their confrontations) that it’s depressingly morbid. You almost feel dirty after watching these moments, not even the luminous beauty of Norah Jones can salvage anything resembling quality here. Honestly, I feel sorry for Jones. No doubt she wanted her first feature film performance to be a meaningful one, and I guess in a way, this is: it’s just that nobody can figure out what the meaning is. Her character is so timid, so introspective, I was afraid she’s suck herself inside out at any point! Perhaps, one day, she’ll appear in a film that is actually enjoyable to watch, and won’t leave such a bitter after-taste in the mouth… hopefully. No dubt she has talent, it’s just that most of the time, she’s obscured by both better actors, and low-rank MTV-style filmmaking techniques. At the moment, I think she’s simply relegated to mediocre obscurity.
Speaking of: even the ending of the film is amazingly obscure. And lame. In the clichéd roll-call of Hollywood anachronisms, the “first kiss” scenario has been played out countless times in countless ways, and never in a hackneyed way like this. To be honest, I was cheering when Law and Jones got it together, but after having to wait the entire film for them to do so, I felt like I’d been cheated out of a cool romantic comedy and made to watch a lacklustre school play. It’s that bad, folks. The entire story plays out like a badly written soap opera. Without the kissing. It’s overwrought, badly edited, badly shot, and feels like some kind of bizarre drug induced trip, and at the end, you don’t even know why the central characters (supposedly Law and Jones) like each other. After all, their characters are barely explained except for the fact they both like blueberry pie. And that, my friends, is hardly a reason to give a toss about them. The other, extraneous characters, offer nothing to the experience other than to explain just how morbid and depraved the human race has become, and if that’s what you want in a film, then more power to you. Me, I prefer my drama a little more light and shade. Here, you get shade. In fact, I’d go so far as to say you avoid shade altogether and delve into the realms of darkness only reserved for Goths and Marylin Manson.
About the only shining light in this film is Jude Law, who brings his suave British smile and sensibilities to the role of the seen-it-all cafe owner. His role calls for a lot less pathos and creativity than he gives it, and although hanstrung by an awkwardly uneven leading lady, and some bad narrative framing, his scenes are the best in the film…. and he’s not in the film that much. Generally, I find Law to be a unique actor with a genuine gift and screen presence, and normally most directors (in films of his I’ve seen) seem unable to bring that out in a way that really hits home for me (possible exception is his turn as the love robot in AI for Spielberg). Here, he simply shines for a moment or two, before being snuffed out by the obfuscating techniques of Mr Kar-wai.
My Blueberry Nights appears to have been marketed towards the people who enjoyed class films like Closer (a film I’d describe as “shit” if this wasn’t a family friendly website) or Elizabethtown (a great film, in no way tainted by Blueberry’s inadequacies) but is actually worse than you think. There’s plenty that should have been enjoyable in this film. Norah Jones’ warbling voice should have been utilised like they made Mariah Carey do it in Glitter, Natalie Portman should have been replaced by somebody like Roseanne Barr or Rosie O’Donnell, and Rachel Weisz should have stopped at reading the script. She’s above pap like this. But then, with some gross miscalculating in the casting department, and a complete lack of viewer-friendly framing and camera angles, you have a film that’s almost impossible to watch, let alone enjoy. To say My Blueberry Nights is a crap film is to sell it short. It’s pretentious, art-house rubbish of the highest order. Could a studio actually trying to profit from turds like this be classed as some sort of corporate malfeasance? I don’t know, but I do know that My Blueberry Nights will now officially make it into our next Worst Film Week event.
Dreadful for all involved, and hopefully soon forgotten.
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