My Blueberry Nights

My Blueberry Nights

Legendary Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai has been taking a drubbing by critics over this, his first English-language feature. I won't be so hard on My Blueberry Nights, though by no means did I find it a great film.

Wallowing in Wong's trademark themes of loneliness and romantic obsession, the film is more or less divided into three stories, with itinerant waitress Elizabeth (Norah Jones) encountering various lost souls in Manhattan, Memphis, and Nevada.

Most critics have cited two major faults: Jones's weak acting and the unrealistic dialogue, which Wong cowrote with American novelist Lawrence Block. I must agree: Wong may have been brave for casting the singer/non-actress in the lead (hey, it worked with Faye Wong in Chungking Express), and for relying on a novelist with no actual screenplays to his credit to help him with his English, but they were gambles that didn't pay off.

This is one of those movies – Peter Weir's Fearless and Vincent Ward's Map of the Human Heart also come to mind – which might have been better as foreign language films with English subtitles. There's just something about the American dialect that isn't suited towards poetic dialogue like this. It sounds strange to say, but I might have preferred a My Blueberry Nights in French. Or Cantonese.

It should be noted that Wong's regular cinematographer, Christopher Doyle, didn't participate in this film. Although he's shot a few American movies, Doyle has openly admitted to finding Asian faces more compelling and easier to light. While he may have had other reasons for not working on My Blueberry Nights, one can muse that he thought it would be boring to shoot these familiar Western celebrities (including Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Rachel Weisz, and David Strathairn – and by the way, Portman's character should have been about twenty years older, and Weisz is too sophisticated to pass as a trashy Memphis housewife, though both are good).

In any event, Doyle's artistry is missed, though the fine DP Darius Khondji provides that "Wong Kar Wai" look, and Ry Cooder adds a rich Americana-laden soundtrack. But while I am glad I saw the film and won't write it off as a bomb, I'll dismiss My Blueberry Nights as minor Wong. An interesting experiment, a noble failure.