I wonder what the reaction to My Blueberry Nights would have been if it were Wong Kar-wai’s first film instead of just his first English language film. Everything I’ve seen in way of critical reaction is polite, when it really ought to be anything but. My Blueberry Nights suggests a filmmaker for sale–nothing in Wong’s other work ever even suggested he’d write such an atrocious screenplay. He usually goes a long way to cast a film well, but here… Norah Jones is utterly incapable of acting. It’s more amateurish than a carpet commercial on a UHF station. The frequent use of her music is annoying as well–it makes the whole thing seem like nothing more than an advertisement for her.
It doesn’t help the opening also relies heavily on Jude Law. Law’s better than Jones, but his abject lack of character is a significant problem. Wong seems to want to imply character depth and apparently for no reason other than style. Even David Strathairn, spitting out the awkward dialogue, does nothing but remind of the superior filmmakers he’s worked with. Comparing this film to Sayles or–and I think this comparison is more intentional–Jarmusch reveals just what’s missing in My Blueberry Nights.
Wong’s always told these wonderfully subtle stories about people–even with all the style, they’re very quiet and reserved. Here, there isn’t even a story, there’s a blurb. An easy synopsis. Some catch phrases and keywords to describe the film.
Besides the awkward transitions, Wong’s composition is excellent. His use of Panavision is nice, Darius Khondji’s colors are lush and vibrant–especially the blues–the music, always something Wong uses to good effect, is poorly chosen. It’s kind of loud, rather obnoxious and definitely obvious.
It’s pretty clear what’s going on with the film. It’s hip. It’s Wong Kar-wai making a film for, I guess, what he perceives to be his English-speaking audience–a bunch of illiterate hipsters.
What’s particularly offending about the film is how much worse it gets as it goes. There’s voiceovers from Law and Jones–and if Jones can’t act a scene, listening her trying to narrate one is even worse. There’s some dumb title cards informing the viewer how long it’s been since the first scene in the present action. But the more interesting story is left untold (Jones hops from New York to Memphis after some long period of time). Wong has no sense of his characters here and he’s trying to make a movie about America, but somehow has almost no sense of it.
What Wong’s doing isn’t pretentious, it’s just bad. The acting’s bad, the plot’s bad, the dialogue’s bad, the music’s bad. If he had good actors, it’d still be bad. The creative impulse behind My Blueberry Nights decidedly lacks any artistry.
I don’t think any other director has ever had such a plummet in quality moving from one film market to another. I used to wait for Wong to make an American film… and now I’m left wondering if he’ll ever be able to make a good film again. My Blueberry Nights is so appalling, it’s hard to believe he ever will again–and I certainly hope he never does another English language project.
Directed by Wong Kar-wai; written by Wong and Lawrence Block, based on a story by Wong; director of photography, Darius Khondji; edited by William Chang; music by Ry Cooder; production designer, Chang; produced by Wong, Jacky Pang Yee Wah, Wei Wang, Stéphane Kooshmanian and Jean-Louis Piel; released by Studio Canal.
Starring Norah Jones (Elizabeth), Jude Law (Jeremy), David Strathairn (Arnie), Rachel Weisz (Sue Lynne), Natalie Portman (Leslie), Cat Power (Katya) and Frankie Faison (Travis).