The world of My Blueberry Nights is a beautiful one full of color, emotion, and pathos. It’s also utterly unrealistic, like trying to understand the human condition through the diary of a terribly romantic 12-year-old girl. Writer/director Won Kar-Wai’s script may exist in strange parallel universe contained wholly in the all-night diners and dives of a fantasy America, but it’s forgivable. His film is so beautiful and the performances he gets from his actors are so brimming with quiet power and life that it doesn’t matter if we’re in the real world or on the set of a badly paced soap opera. It works.
It stars Norah Jones. That’s right, Norah Jones, the singer. She plays Elizabeth, a New York girl recently dumped by her boyfriend and finding solace hanging out in a corner café run by British immigrant Jeremy (Jude Law). Her evenings are spent self-pitying in his café, talking, and eating blueberry pie while Jeremy slowly falls in love with her. Lost in her own problems she doesn’t see it, and decides to escape her mental quagmire by leaving the city. She travels cross country , working her way to the next town off tips she earns waitressing in an assortment of random establishments.
That’s how we see her and everyone in the movie; through the windows of the places Lizzy works… literally. Wong Kar Wai shoots everything through obstructed views: outside a window with colored writing on it, around a corner, through a string of hanging lights. In the wrong hands it could have been an annoying gimmick, but in My Blueberry Nights it adds to the sense of actually being there in, wherever this is, as if we’re all voyeurs peeping in on these forlorn lives. It doesn’t hurt that visually, it ends up making the whole thing look gorgeous in a dreamy, moody haze of grainy, carefully splashed colors.
There’s plenty to see. Along the way Elizabeth encounters others, all damaged by love in one way or another. Whether it’s an alcoholic cop (David Strathairn) abandoned by his wife (Rachel Weisz) or a poker-playing daughter estranged from her father (Natalie Portman), Wong Kar-Wai seems to know how to get the best out of his actors. Most of all though it’s Norah Jones who runs away with the film. Even when the script might seem contrived she doesn’t. She’s as authentic as it gets. It doesn’t hurt that unlike the usual suspects, she looks nothing like an actress. She’s simply a person, one who it’s easy to identify with on a very basic level.
Still, no matter how great the people are in this movie it’s hard not to find fault with Wong Kar-Wai’s bland script. It’s a standard, pretentious, indie-film story rooted in New York and told with more genuine feeling than it probably deserves. The result is an uneven movie with amazing moments, and then all the excessive slow motion in between. My Blueberry Nights has a cast that makes it better than it ought to be, and Wong Kar-Wai’s direction is interesting. Now just imagine how great it could have been if he’d had a decent story to go along with it.