Release Date: April 4
Director:: Wong Kar-Wai
Writers: Lawrence Block & Wong Kar-Wai
Cinematographer: Darius Khondji
Starring: Norah Jones, Jude Law, Natalie Portman
Studio/Run Time: The Weinstein Company, 90 mins.
Wong Kar-Wai broke into film with a scream of originality—a call to arms, of sorts, for taking cinema to new places. When he came out with both the gorgeous Ashes of Time and the haunting Chungking Express in the same year, he earned a permanent place in the good graces of the international film community. His time since has been spent slowly releasing masterpieces, seemingly unable of doing any wrong.
In My Blueberry Nights, though, something is off. Not that a summary of the film really gets to the core of the matter, as for the most part it seems like typical Kar-Wai. A woman, played for some still unclear reason by an inept Norah Jones, breaks up with her longtime boyfriend and decides to drift across the country searching to either fall in love or fall out of it. Her story on the road primarily takes place in two settings, Memphis and Las Vegas, as she explores different aspects of love and the country. Meanwhile, back in New York, a coffee-store owner (Jude Law) forlornly waits for her. This setup, from its continuation of Kar-Wai’s obsession with love to the multiple-part storytelling, feels like it should be another classic.
But it's not, and this is partly derived from its sheer similarity to Kar-Wai's previous works. Since both stylistically and thematically he has covered nearly all of this ground before, the only real achievement for the film is changing settings and personnel. Separated from both Tony Leung’s acting and Christopher Doyle’s work as cinematographer, though, Kar-Wai feels strangely uncertain for the first time in his career. The cinematic tools he has employed in previous features sometimes work, but just as often seem out of place and hackneyed. Style has always been one of the primary draws to Kar-Wai's films, but in the past it has always worked to complement substance instead of carrying the story without narrative function.
My Blueberry Nights is still stunningly—almost unbelievably—beautiful, but this only emphasizes slightly sloppy editing and hit-or-miss acting. What the film ends up feeling like is someone else's clumsy attempt to imitate Kar-Wai’s style while missing out on his obsessive perfection and emotional depth. Instead of transcending his material, Kar-Wai has finally succumbed to it and made the film that art-film detractors complain about, one with a convoluted plot, inauthentic characters and pretentious style.