Tuesday, July 1, 2008

DVD Review: My Blueberry Nights

Starring: Norah Jones, Jude Law, Rachel Weisz, David Strathairn, Natalie Portman
Director: Wong Kar Wai
DVD Release Date: July 1, 2008
Running Time: 90 min
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Distributor: The Weinstein Company

News flash: relationships are hard. They can be very frustrating at times. The way men and women attempt to communicate has always been a source of equal parts fascination and bewilderment to me. Everybody wants to know what the other person is thinking but unlike any other interaction in life, we find these odd methods of approach when dealing with the opposite sex. Rarely do people just come out and say what they think or ask what they actually want to know. Women seem to always want to know what guys are thinking. Men, on the other hand, seem less interested in wanting to know what women are thinking than they are finding ways to not let on what they are thinking. I think everyone can agree that the whole thing is absurd, yet we still find ourselves doing exactly that, from time to time. My Blueberry Nights a character study that dissects this very concept.

Elizabeth (Norah Jones) goes into a New York café looking for her boyfriend. The man who runs the café, Jeremy (Jude Law) possesses this uncanny ability of identifying and remembering his customers by remembering what they order. The suggestion that everyone that comes to the shop orders the same thing is not questioned, for fear of devaluing the plot device, I imagine. Anyway, through a series of quick questions and answers, Elizabeth gets enough information from Jeremy to suspect that her boyfriend is cheating on her. Over the course of the next several nights, she comes in to the café after hours and the two bond by way of conversation and blueberry pie. Just when the meetings are starting to hit their stride, she comes in one night and suggests that she is going to give the boyfriend another chance. A few nights go by in her absence until she sullenly returns, silently conceding defeat. The two rekindle their conversation and the next night, she is gone.

By way of the title cards sporadically placed throughout the movie, we find out that she is now in Memphis, Tennessee. She is working two jobs, a bar at night, and a restaurant during the day, to save for a car. Where she plans to go is not discussed or even eluded to. She sends Jeremy postcards for the purpose of staying in touch, but doesn’t reveal her whereabouts. During this stint she encounters a local policeman named Arnie (David Strathairn) and later his soon-to-be ex-wife Sue Lynne (Rachel Weisz). She learns that Arnie has tried to quit drinking on several occasions but has yet to accomplish it fully. The meetings of consequence Arnie and Lizzie (she changed her name with her location, I guess) share are the strongest parts of the movie. They keep running into each other and divulging a little more to each other about each other along the way, until something happens that makes Elizabeth/Lizzie leave town.

Now she ends up somewhere cocktailing at a slum casino. She meets Leslie (Natalie Portman) who just lost a decent chunk of money on a bad beat at a poker table. Leslie talks Beth (oh, she goes by Beth now) into loaning her all the money she saved with the promise that she would either get it back if she won, or get her car if she lost. She loans the money, the money gets lost, and the two end up going to Las Vegas so Leslie can get her hands on more loot. Until something happens that makes Elizabeth/Lizzie/Beth hit the road again.

The problem with any character study as a movie is that the character(s) have to be interesting enough to sustain the runtime of the movie. On the surface, Elizabeth’s conflict was enough to generate inaugural interest but the more the story progressed, the less we knew about why it was all happening in the first place. Apart from her being an angsty 20-something that needed some sort of adventure, we never fully grasp her intentions.

From a technical standpoint, the movie is well shot. Director Wong Kar Wai (in his first English language feature film) goes to great lengths to evoke emotion from the surroundings. But trading style for substance is a problem My Blueberry Nights was too broke to afford. It is worth mentioning that Norah Jones does a decent job in her first acting performance. She is helped by the fact that her character seems as much out of her element as she. A truer test would have been to give her something of substance to sink her teeth into, but she does well enough with what she is given.

Like a woman or two I have encountered in my life, My Blueberry Nights looks really good, tries to be sexier than it should be allowed to be, but in the end is pretty hallow and boring. And slow. I had a conversation about this movie with someone recently and they said they hadn’t seen it but thought the poster was one of the best of the year. When they asked for my critique of the film, I gave them the most honest response I could think of:

“If that’s the case, you’re better off looking at the poster for 2 hours.”

And there's the rub.

* * out of * * * *

1 comment:

WaywardJam said...

Agree. Stylish and great to look at (especially Natalie), but man if it didn't bore me with its lack of momentum.