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August 20, 2008

DVD REVIEW: My Blueberry Nights Beautiful, But Bizarre


By Stephen Silver

My Blueberry Nights, now out on DVD, represents a fascinating but not altogether successful transition to the U.S. and English for the noted Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai. It's a beautiful, although sometimes maddening film, which is certainly at its best in its opening location in New York, but starts to lose its way once the protagonist goes on the road.


The multiple Grammy-winning singer Norah Jones, an acting novice, makes her film debut as Elizabeth, a young woman who has just had her heart broken by a boyfriend. Upon finding out that the boyfriend had eaten in a New York cafe with another woman, Elizabeth confesses her heartache to the cafe's owner, Jeremy (Jude Law.) She returns to the cafe many times to eat blueberry pie (hence the film's title) before leaving town.


Elizabeth then takes off, by bus, for points elsewhere, first visiting Tennessee and later an unnamed West Coast gambling town. Using different versions of her name in the different towns ("Lizzie," "Beth") she encounters such characters as a local drunk (David Strathairn), his angry estranged wife (Rachel Weisz) and a young gambler (Natalie Portman).


The New York segments are by far the film's strongest. I have no idea how much time Wong Kar Wai has spent in New York, but he's totally nailed what it feels like to sit in a Manhattan diner at 2 in the morning the music, lighting and even the conversation are all nothing less than perfect.


The other two segments of the movie aren't quite bad. They're just less than impressive, with Weisz given little to do except yell and cry, and Strathairn not quite giving his best performance either. Portman, meanwhile, is given one of the more unfortunate wigs in recent cinematic history.


Jones, despite never having acted before, does just fine in the lead role. She's got enough performing chops from her singing career, and is able to convey all of the emotions inherent to the role. Her music is also prominent on the soundtrack. In one scene, she acts while one of her songs plays over her. Another singer-turned-actress, Chan "Cat Power" Marshall, also makes her acting debut, although it's sort of hard to figure out why her scene (with Law) is even in the movie.


Wong Kar Wai's Hong Kong films, most notably 2000's classic In the Mood For Love, have been about small moments and quiet relationships between two adults, and while the American version isn't quite the same success the film was barely released in the U.S. and earned less than $1 million at the box office I'm still glad he gave it a try, for My Blueberry Nights, at its good points, ranks with the best cinematic material of the year.


Rating: 3 stars (out of 4)


2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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