May 8, 2008

REVIEW: My Blueberry Nights (A-)

Background: Chinese Writer/Director Kar Wai Wong (heretofore known as Wong Kar-wai) has developed a devoted international fan base for his stylish films over the last 20 years, including the recent 2046, which I remember seeing listed by numerous critics as one of the top ten films of 2005. His first feature length English-language film, My Blueberry Nights, was selected to open the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, and is also notable as the acting debut for singer/songwriter Norah Jones - for whom the role was specifically written. Showing her the ropes are co-stars Jude Law (Breaking and Entering), Natalie Portman (The Other Boleyn Girl), David Strathairn (The Bourne Ultimatum), and Rachel Weisz (ouch - Fred Claus and P.S. I Love You).

Synopsis : In New York, Elizabeth (Jones) is seeking solace after having been just dumped by her boyfriend. She wanders into a nearby cafe and dramatically drops off the keys to her apartment, checking in every few days to see if her ex has reclaimed them on his way back to her. Instead, she strikes up a friendship with Jeremy (Law), the dreamy owner of the cafe who comforts her with blueberry pie and ice cream each night - all she can eat until she falls asleep on the counter. Before their relationship can go any further, Elizabeth takes off for parts unknown, working multiple jobs in order to buy a car and always sending postcards back to Jeremy in New York. In Memphis she works at a diner by day and a bar by night, in both places serving a local cop, Arnie (Strathairn), who's attempting to drink his way past the broken heart left by his cheating wife, Sue Lynne (Weisz). After her stint in Memphis, Elizabeth all of a sudden shows up in Nevada, where Leslie (Portman), a compulsive gambler with daddy issues, teaches her some life lessons by way of Texas Hold 'Em. Matured and gassed up with a car, Elizabeth heads back to New York, nearly a year after she first left. Has Jeremy been receiving her postcards? Is he still there? Don't look at the poster above...

I Loved:
+ Norah Jones. I've been a moderate fan of her music for some time, but didn't expect much here - especially not to be hypnotized by her beauty. I think she looks like my girlfriend. ;-)
+ Hearing Ryan Shaw's "We Got Love"! I called for this as part of last year's missing soundtrack. Different kind of scene than the one I mentioned, but I still a fantastic surprise.
+ David Strathairn's heart wrenching performance - as good as anything he's done, according to me.

I Liked:
+ Natalie Portman's role, but not until about an hour after seeing the movie. Her presence was a jolt in the film's momentum and I was initially put off, but then I realize that she played it perfectly.
+ The mix of filming styles - grainy, smooth, slow-mo, etc.

I Disliked:
- Rachel Weisz, which I didn't think was possible. Something didn't quite click for me.

I Hated:
- The jarring subway cars occasionally blowing by and totally disrupting the mood.

Writing - 8
Acting - 10
Production - 9
Emotional Impact - 9
Music - 5
Significance - 4

Total: 45/50 = 90% = A-

Last Word: Not having seen any other Wong Kar-wai film, I really had no idea what to expect from My Blueberry Nights. Obviously I hadn't seen the trailer, nor did I have any idea what it was about (this is my goal with most movies). About all I did know was that it was Norah Jones' acting debut and it starred a handful of people that I usually like to watch. I say all of this because I feel my ignorance about all aspects of the film heavily influenced my impression of it - and wow, was I impressed. My Blueberry Nights is a completely refreshing, wholly artistic dream of a film; "romantic" describes every aspect of its production. Every scene is bathed in neon light and saturated with vivid color, perfectly complementing the subtle, sensual soundtrack that provides the heartbeat of the film - a film that's very much alive.
The time and place of the story feel less linear than they actually are, which along with the quick editing and mixed film styles only adds to the dreamscape. Norah Jones is a captivating on-screen presence, and Wong Kar-wai is clearly some kind of prescient genius to have written the role of Elizabeth specifically for her. Unfortunately, the writing of the actual plot didn't do as much for me as the characters did. The key fishbowl was a little corny, and the sudden transition in and out of Nevada was too disjointed for me. Eventually, however, My Blueberry Nights regains its footing, and I found myself actually enjoying the saccharin-sweetened ending. My unfortunate ignorance prevents me from confronting the critics and die-hard fans who consider this Wong Kar-wai's worst film, but to anyone else I say this is evidence of a truly visionary filmmaker. If you're not tasting blueberry pie yourself by the end of this, I'm afraid you've missed something.


  1. I've heard some wonderful things about Natalie Portman's performance in this.

  2. Yay Danny - a film I have actually seen.

    I loved it too, and gave it four and a half stars out of five{which works out to 90% as well} - so I think we are pretty much on the same side of the fence in terms of this film.

    Nice write up, maybe it will urge more people to give it a chances, or a second look. I know I want to see it again sometime soon - but not too soon - the effect is sill lingering.

  3. WHAT? Not like Rachel Weisz??? what are you, some kind of communist?

    That said, thanks for the write up. I wish I lived somewhere where "My Blueberry Nights" might play. I love Wong Kar Wai.

  4. I wasn't immediately impressed, k, (actually I was irritated) but by the time Portman's character was gone I realized that she'd nailed the part.

    Thanks, Nick. I realize there are a few of us who've gone against the RT consensus on this one. Might I add, ladies and gentlemen, that if you want to see the future of film criticism, look no further than Nick's astounding review of this film. Unbelievable.

    My flag is as red as her dress in this movie, Rick. I don't know what it was - I think maybe the Southern accent, or perhaps the lack of any positive character trait. I just didn't warm to her the same way I eventually warmed to Portman.

    I'm hesitant to recommend it to you since most WKW fans have hated it, but you seem like the kind of person who would give it a fair shake.

  5. Loved the film, and that lovely blueberry kiss. We're rabid Wong Kar Wai fans too.

  6. Aw, shuck, well thanks.

    Needless to say, I cannot wait to see what Wong comes up with next.

  7. Thanks for the visit, 1minute, and glad to hear more WKW fans defending his latest work.

    Me, too, Nick. I need to catch up on his older films in the meantime.

  8. I think you'll like what you see, Daniel ... might I recommend "In the Mood for Love" and it's "sequel" "2046" ... "Chungking Express" is great as well, and Criterion is coming out with a Blu Ray version, not that I can afford a player yet ...

  9. wow, pretty positive review...

    i wonder if norah will star in any more films???

  10. You and me both, Rick (shouldn't we get a discount of some sort for spreading the word about movies?), and thanks for the recommendations - those are the three I've heard the most buzz about.

    Better believe it, RC! And thanks for stopping by again.

    I don't know about Norah Jones - she was hit pretty hard by the critics for this, but I thought she was perfect. It doesn't look like she has another credit on the way, though. Kind of embarrassing...although, I guess she has been pretty successful with a bit of a music career.

  11. Am I the only person who didn't like Natalie Portman? I never got beyond thinking, hey, there's Natalie Portman in a bad blonde dye job. :)

  12. Glad there's a warm, friendly corner of the internet where it's ok to love this movie.

    I understand that it's not every person's cup of tea...yeah some people love a really strong story...but the hate and dismissal thrown at this movie is mysterious to me.

    As I've said elsewhere, I'm beginning to think people don't have any poetry in their souls anymore.

    Ahh well. There's no law that says everyone has to agree.

    Nicely reviewed Daniel. In my opinion, when a movie makes you feel more than think, it's a hard review to write, but you did a good job. I'll second our compliment of Nick's terrific review as well.

    The highlight for me was Cassandra Wilson's version of Neil Young's Harvest Moon. I was in the tank for this movie from then on. Maybe I should buy the soundtrack...

  13. K.Bowen, I think her hair was really the first thing that bothered me. Once I somehow accepted that, her attitude became my problem. She seemed to be acting a bit older than she was, which I realize was the point, but was still annoying.

    As I said though, upon further thought (and it was hard to get MBN out my mind), I warmed to her character.

    "I'm beginning to think people don't have any poetry in their souls anymore."

    Hope not, Craig, but maybe it explains the pushback on this. It takes a strong argument to convince people that this is a uniquely told story, and both you and MZS (and Nick) do so much better than me. My reaction was most likely a result of this being my first WKW film, and as such being enraptured by its stylistic elements.

    The soundtrack might definitely be on of the best of the early year. Great for a blue night.

  14. I was admittedly disappointed by the film. But I do agree about Strathairn, I thought he was amazing and was the highlight of the film for me. It is a great performance that will doubtlessly be overlooked come awards time.

  15. No worries, Matthew. My moderate expectations didn't really allow me to be disappointed, but MBN isn't one that I think everyone should connect with. It was more of a dream than a movie, for me.

    Strathairn leaves BY FAR the biggest mark in terms of the acting here. He was fantastic, but I agree that MBN is a bit too early and a bit too damaged, at this point, to garner any nominations.

  16. Correct on all counts, my boy. Finished writing my review several hours ago and I'm totally with you on pretty much EVERYTHING. MBN gets four stars out of five for me (maybe even more later) and it is officially my favourite film - and the best movie - of 2008.

    The only thing that we even slightly disagreed on is RACHEL WEISZ. I thought she gave the best performance I've ever seen from her. To me, it puts The Constant Gardener right in the shade and I thought she was a VERY deserving Oscar winner.

    Yeah, Rachel's accent was MOST DEFINITELY off. But so was everyone's else: Jude's, Chan's and Natalie's as well. Having finally been able to sneak in a look at a film starring Jude that I purchased MONTHS ago (have quite the DVD backlog going on) he can certainly do an EXPERT Northern English accent with ease. That's where his grandfather is from. I'm not saying what the movie is because it's a huge spoiler. All I will say is that it was released in theatres FAIRLY recently.

    So if everyone's accent is a bit screwy, who's to blame? Editing? I don't know. All I do know is that there are a variety of Southern accents here that I've never heard before. As much as I enjoyed ALL of the acting (there's not a bad performance in the bunch) I do not mean that in a good way.

    But it was an utterly marvelous confection sent down from heaven for us mortals to enjoy. This is what moviegoing should ultimately be about. SURRENDER to great art.

    Can't say enough about this. So that makes four of us: Craig, Nicky, you and myself. AWESOME.

    Wonderful review, Danny.

  17. Thanks a lot, Miranda. Your excellent review was really heartfelt as well. I'm pleased to be in your company (and Nick and Craig) on the positive side of this one! MBN is sure to create ongoing passionate arguments throughout its DVD life.

  18. Sigh. I wish I could be with the 'in crowd' on this one, but I just can't. You all seem to be having the same reactions to it that I had to "Speed Racer."

    Oh well. You gotta call 'em like you see 'em.

  19. Don't even worry about it, Evan. Stick to your thoughts, as you did with SR.

    This is a prime example of a film that appeals to different tastes. Some people just don't find blueberry pie very delicious - they're not wrong (well maybe they are, it's A LOT better than apple pie), it's just that their cinematic taste buds respond differently to some films than others.

  20. Don't see it in the review but you cautioned me that I would either love or hate this, and I must say that I found myself right in the middle. Too sweet to hate, too aggravating to like. Norah Jones might have been fine to look at, but her character just bored me to tears. I loved Chunking Express and Fallen Angels, but the quirkiness just seemed forced in this one.

  21. That's impossible. You can either love the style and overlook the story's flaws, or you can hate it and considered Wong Kar-Wai a sellout.

    Speaking of which, I need to arrange my personal WKW viewing marathon.


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