The first English language film from the great Hong Kong director is an exceptionally frustrating experience. It would be natural to have reservations upon hearing of this project being produced, but despite all that could go wrong, there was the hope that Wong Kar-Wai would still deliver the goods. Alas, it's pretty disastrous, and deserves the critical kicking it took upon its UK release. Don't be fooled by its pretty reasonable average score on IMDB which highly inflates the quality of this film.
As you would expect from a Wong Kar-Wai film, it looks gorgeous. Darius Khondji, the Iranian born cinematographer who provided 'Seven' and the early Jean Pierre-Jeunet films ('Delicatessen', 'City of Lost Children') with their distinctive look, proves an able substitute for Wong's usual collaborator Christopher Doyle. He particular excels at the night scenes, where garish neon lights prevail. But we knew what to expect aesthetically. Few contemporary film makers can match Wong Kar-Wai in this respect, so there's no real surprise here. And that in all honesty amounts to any positive discussion of 'My Blueberry Nights' because practically everything else is rather substandard.
Watching the film, you get the sense in many ways that Wong Kar-Wai is producing a contemporary American spin on one of his masterpieces, 'Chungking Express' (1994). He uses the same visual trick that was prevalent in that film, which is very out of focus and rapid camerawork in faster than natural motion, as if the characters are in a sense of change or soul searching. Yes, it looks neat for the first time, and maybe that's part of the problem. Those not familiar might be rather impressed, but those familiar with Wong's work might feel as if they have seen it all before. 'My Blueberry Nights' also features loosely connected tales, which are in this case experienced by the same one character, Elizabeth (Norah Jones - surprisingly OK), who embarks on a journey of self-discovery after discovering her boyfriend has cheated on her.
She first gets talking to Jeremy (Jude Law - terrible), a cafÃ© owner from Manchester, who is also heartbroken, and it's all quite cute; you know full well they are meant for each other by the way they have conversations that are composed of pretty ludicrous metaphors (nobody eating blueberry pie to denote loneliness perhaps?). Law's accent is shocking, and sets the tone for a film featuring several poor efforts in that sense. And why is he even from Manchester? He mentions this once and never again. He doesn't even need to be British - this makes absolutely no difference to the film whatsoever. Anyway, Elizabeth leaves for Memphis, works in a diner by day and bar by night, observing the destructive relationship between alcoholic cop Arnie (David Strathairn - reasonable) and Sue Lynn (Rachel Weisz - accent a slight improvement on Law's perhaps), which all ends tragically. Then reaching Las Vegas, she hooks up with a gambler, Leslie (Natalie Portman - similarly poor like Weisz) who has an estranged relationship with her father. And on the way, she learns lessons about life, love and so on before you can reasonably write the ending for yourself.
Early Wong Kar-Wai films like 'Chungking Express' and 'Fallen Angels' featured a sense of triviality that was easy to admire; much like the throwaway and playful centres of early Godard films. If Wong is trying to repeat this formula for this film, it really doesn't work. These episodes are so trivial, so uninvolving, it's hard to care. Does the marital breakdown of Arnie and Sue Lynn feel genuinely affecting? What about Leslie's reaction to news her father is dying? Not really. It's difficult to invest anything emotionally in these characters; probably because they're talking in such clichÃ©-ridden nonsense for the entire film. I'm not sure whether this film is more scripted than other Wong efforts. I assume the fact he has an established co-writer, then perhaps, but the actors are not being given much to work with at all.
'My Blueberry Nights' doesn't know what it wants to be. An art film? A mainstream romantic comedy/drama? It strives to be both and succeeds as neither. So many of the aspects of a great Wong Kar Wai film are here in ultra-diluted form, and that is what disappoints. This could, and perhaps should have been a very good film. Unfortunately it isn't, and I'm afraid it's necessary to be brutal because it's the work of a great film maker, not some hack for hire. I appreciate that Wong had probably gone as far as he could in his home land, and that Hollywood will offer a chance to work with bigger budgets and different actors. His next film appears to be a remake of sorts of my favourite Welles film 'The Lady of Shanghai'. It has to be an improvement on this mess. 2/5