My Blueberry Nights feels like the type of film that would be praised if it was presented with subtitles and featured foreign actors. It just gives off that type of vibe. The picture marks the English-language directorial debut of Wong Kar-wai, who created motion picture poetry in 2000 with In the Mood for Love and attempts to recapture the same in this 2007 release. And if it didn’t star actors you know, and wasn’t in a language you understand, you’d probably love it, assuming you saw it in the first place, which you wouldn’t unless you were already the sort of person who would seek this type of film out.
What I’m saying is that if you liked In the Mood for Love — and actually saw it in the first place — then you’ll probably have a good enough time with My Blueberry Nights, too. It’s the type of subdued, art house film that’s less about any real plot, or even characters, than it is about tone, mood, and the way that it was composed. It’s a meditative little film about one woman, Elizabeth (Norah Jones), her journey, and the people she comes across over its duration.
The first person she encounters is Jeremy (Jude Law), the owner of a small café in New York. He, and the small location over which he presides, becomes a safe haven for her, someone who is having issues dealing with her cheating boyfriend. But, still, Elizabeth feels the need to make a major change, and takes multiple buses all over the United States of America, encountering many people in her wake. Jeremy, meanwhile, gets postcards and letters and stays up nights thinking about the woman who used to come to his café to sit, talk, and eat blueberry pie.
Of these later encounters, there are three that stand out. Two take place at the same period in time, and involve an alcoholic policeman, Arni (David Strathairn), and the wife from whom he is currently separated, Sue Lynne (Rachel Weisz). The final, taking place later chronologically, is with a gambler, Leslie (Natalie Portman). In a sense, there are really three stories in My Blueberry Nights, and all of them are interesting enough to hold our attention.
One of the main ideas at the heart of the film is how love — and not just romantic love — functions, and continues to function, even after distance and time have separated its participants. Elizabeth takes 300 days to complete her journey, and over its course we see relationships between a great deal of people. Elizabeth functions as an observer, and it’s through her eyes that we see the director’s perspective on the subject. It also allows for the character growth of our protagonist, as she learns about life during her travels.
I didn’t have a problem with any of this. Because each segment of story was so short, none of them had the opportunity to grow dull. Energy is maintained thanks to the brevity, the situations themselves, and the actors. They all have something to say, and there isn’t a single moment wasted. Every frame was left in for a reason. It’s true that those who find talking boring will hate the film. If that’s you, I recommend skipping pretty much every other project directed by Kar-wai.
At first, I thought the film moved too fast, and didn’t allow for enough time to be spent with anyone. That observation is not wrong. If you are looking for much development or even characterization beyond that of Elizabeth — and even in that case, there’s not much there — you will be disappointed. My Blueberry Nights is more about the ideas and the mood; it doesn’t need deep characters to make you aware of both of these things. A lengthier, more conventional film would be entirely different, and while it might be perfectly fine, it would not bring the same points across, or do so as effectively.
There are some artistic flourishes from time to time — including an overuse of slow-motion shots, which eventually grow irritating — and the cinematography will seem obscure to audience members who don’t watch any foreign films, but the style is generally in service of a purpose, and rarely gives off a “because I can” feeling, which is important.
My Blueberry Nights is non-cameo, real acting, debut of singer Norah Jones, who has surprisingly been given the lead. She doesn’t show a whole lot in her performance — about two facial expressions punctuate the role — especially when compared to the likes of Rachel Weisz and Natalie Portman. She’s charming enough, sure, but that’s about all she has going for her. Jude Law doesn’t show much better, coming across as an emotionally stinted man.
My Blueberry Nights is something foreign. By that I mean that it would be highly praised had it not starred American actors speaking English. It is based on a short film also directed by Wong Kar-wai — that one in Chinese — so that’s likely where that feeling comes from. For what it’s worth, this is a film that has enough to say to justify its rather brief running time, and sustains itself thanks to the dialogue and the situations presented within. It is unlikely to be what you expect. It looks and feels different. I quite enjoyed it.