When I was in high school and college (that’s right, college!) I often imagined taking my 200 dollars out of the bank (that’s right, 200 dollars!) or whatever, and disappearing. There is a romantic notion to cutting ties with everyone you know, and everything that you have been, and blazing a new trail. I’m not showing off. I know that having felt this way doesn’t make me unique or cool or rebellious. It makes me have been someone who was in high school and college, whose head was filled with high school and college thoughts. Because that’s what that is. It’s childish. As you learn in GRADUATE SCHOOL, you can’t escape who you are. And a lot of the desire for totally abandoning your life can be appeased with a one week vacation. After a few days you’re pretty ready to be back in your own apartment with all of your stuff. It’s like they always say, traveling is like houseguests which are like fish: they mostly stink. You know that old expression.
The point is: someone should have told Wong Kar Wai that instead of making My Blueberry Nights, he could have just taken a road trip and saved us all the trouble.
My Blueberry Nights is about Norah Jones’s boyfriend cheating on her with another woman by eating pork chops at Jude Law’s heartbreakingly cute New York diner. Norah Jones is sad and keeps going back to the diner every night when it is closing and bothering Jude Law while he’s just trying to mop the floors after a long day of working at a stove. But he doesn’t seem to mind, and a lot of times they eat pie. Then Norah Jones decides to leave New York and she goes to Memphis where she gets a job working at a slightly less heartbreakingly cute but still charming in its own way diner, and then at night she gets a job working at a honky tonk bar, and all the time she is sending Jude Law postcards about her adventures. While she is in Memphis she meets David Straithairn who is an alcoholic police officer angry about his wife, Rachel Weisz, leaving him. Norah Jones tells him that she is saving up for a car, and he gives her a very nice tip. Later, he drives his truck into a telephone pole and everyone learns a pretty important lesson about life and love. So Norah Jones leaves Memphis and goes to Nevada where she gets a job as a cocktail waitress in a backwater casino, and that is where she meets Natalie Portman, who is a sass-talking poker player down on her luck. Meanwhile, Jude Law enjoys reading her postcards. Natalie Portman asks Norah Jones to borrow 2,000 dollars, because of how that’s a thing that people do, to buy her back into a poker game, and promises to repay her and split the winnings if she wins, but if she loses, Norah Jones gets to keep her brand new Jaguar, because that is a thing that people offer in exchange for 2,000 dollars. She loses the poker game and gives Norah Jones the car but says she has to drive her to Las Vegas and on the way they become friends, sure, but then when they get there it turns out that Natalie Portman’s dad has just died and everyone learns a pretty important lesson about family and love and death and Jaguars. Natalie Portman won’t give Norah Jones the car like she promised, because it belonged to her dad, but it turns out that she wont the poker game and had lied about it so that she would have some company for the trip to Las Vegas and explains that you should never trust anybody, but Norah Jones says you should trust some people, and I think they both learned a pretty important lesson about people and trusting sometimes but not always maybe. Norah Jones buys a Buick, drives back to New York, eats some pie with Jude Law, promptly passes out, he starts kissing her while she’s asleep because that’s not a total creep move, and then they are both kissing, and pie, and the end.
I actually tried to watch My Blueberry Nights once before, when it first came out on DVD. I really like Wong Kar Wai. He is really good at making movies. In the Mood for Love is great, and Happy Together is great, and of course Chungking Express is great. But the first time I tried to watch this movie I turned it off within the first 10 minutes, because of this scene:
The thing is, My Blueberry Nights isn’t the worst movie of all time. It just might have been better as a few sentences drawn with a sharpie on a pair of Larry King’s jeans. All of this false poetry and empty wisdom and heavy-handed metaphors about keys and pies (which run through the rest of the narrative, btw). Who wrote this movie, Terrence Howard?
Obviously, it is always difficult to create a moving and not-laughable exploration of “love,” so I can only imagine that creating that exploration in a foreign language with non-professional actors is that much harder. I’m not a big fan of Norah Jones’s music, but compared to her acting I AM A SUPERFAN. Then again, even Jude Law is pretty bad in this, which suggests that the language and cultural barriers were very real and very problematic. Not that they should change the Oscars to the Jude Lawscers, but just that he’s a professional actor who has carried his own in plenty of movies. At the very least, if he is not good, he is acceptable. He can do his job. But here, he’s all grins and fake “romantic” laughs and knowing looks because the director had his translator say “your motivation is knowing looks.” All of the actors seem to be trying to do their best with what they were given to mixed/tonedeaf results. Rachel Weisz is mostly forgettable as David Straithairn’s estranged wife, and David Straithairn does a just OK job as a cuckolded alcoholic. “Get me Jason Bourne! I mean a cab! Get me a cab!” Natalie Portman’s brassy gambler is pretty convincing for what it’s worth, although she’s a little too pretty to actually seem like a strung out woman incapable of facing up to reality. More like a beautiful actress pretending to be a strung out woman incapable of facing up to a thinly drawn reality. Everyone seems like they’re reading a dramatic monologue at an audition for Wong Kar Wai’s My Blueberry Community Theater Productions.
The best actor in the whole movie is actually Cat Power, who makes a surprise (to me at least) cameo. What a dreamboat!
Once she wanted to be The Greatest*, and now she is. But even here, her character is supposed to be Russian? Why? Add it to the why pile.
The rest of the movie after the fateful BLUEBERRY PIE POETRY SLAM feels like Rochelle, Rochelle without the nudity. When Norah Jones returns to New York to get lip-raped by Jude Law, she explains that she was going to come into the diner on the night she left the city, but she didn’t because she knew that if she did she would just be the same old person she had always been, and she didn’t want to be that person anymore. Fair enough. Except that I’m not convinced working shit service industry jobs while you try to save up for a used Buick is the way to self-actualization and romantic enlightenment. I’m pretty sure that is how people end up driving their cars into telephone poles.
Perhaps the worst thing about this movie is my fear that if I actually spoke Cantonese I would find Wong Kar Wai’s non-English movies as trite and dull and adolescent as this. But I am just going to assume that’s not the case. The problem with writing a love letter to a country that isn’t your own is that you forget that all of the things that you find magically foreign and inspiring to you have been the stuff of postcards and car commercials and tacky truck stop t-shirts for years. Forget it, Wong, It’s Americatown.
*Actually, Cat Power’s “The Greatest” was the leitmotif for Jude Law and Norah Jones’s romance, which I thought was a delightfully loud slap in Norah Jones’s face.
Next week: I will be taking one blessed weekend off for the Memorial Day holiday. WILL YOU ALLOW ME THAT MUCH, YOU MONSTERS? But in two weeks: Max Payne. As always, please leave your suggestions in the comments or in an email. And if you haven’t done so already, please consult the Official Rules.