Adored international filmmaker Wong Kar Wai makes his English-language debut with the sultry atmospheric piece, “My Blueberry Nights.” If you’re already a student of the director’s work, perhaps “Nights” will feel regressive and unusually aimless; however, those unfamiliar with Wong’s warm waters might find the picture alluring enough to crave his more eloquent cinematic forays.
Stumbling into a café one night is Elizabeth (Norah Jones), looking for her absentee boyfriend. Jeremy (Jude Law), the owner of the establishment, is immediately smitten with the mystified woman, and the two strike up a confessional friendship over long nights and slices of pie. Impulsively, Elizabeth embarks on a soul-clearing trip across America, interacting with the addicted (David Strathairn) and the unstable (Natalie Portman), while hoping to drown herself in routine and anonymity. For Jeremy, the absence is too much to bear, and he spends his days consumed with Elizabeth’s postcards and the memories of her curious melancholy.
“Blueberry Nights” is a tempered, sometimes agonizingly slow offering of drama. It’s one long romantic ache stretched over 90 minutes of screentime and scored to the somnolent melodies of Ry Cooder and a tranquil soundtrack that includes selections from Jones and Chan “Cat Power” Marshall (who also cameos in the film). Considering the leap to working with Hollywood’s bigger stars, Wong keeps his recognizable rhythms intact, and “Nights” is merely a heightened extension of his previous work. The quality is sometimes debatable, but thankfully Wong hasn’t completely shed his skin in pursuit of a bigger international audience.
“Nights” is an experience of textures and flavors, where emotions don’t just come and go at a moment’s notice, but float around in the air like trails of smoke, with each character stumbling their way towards articulations of the soul. It’s a romantic film that lingers on the processes of bonding and interaction between polar opposites, where connections form and trust is tentatively agreed upon. Elizabeth’s travels explore her friendships with broken lives, ranging from an alcoholic cop (Strathairn) who can’t give up his ex-wife (Rachael Weisz) to a poker addict (Portman) running away from family issues. Wong is consumed with the social bridges people build together, and the film is chock full of leisurely portraits of confessional breakdowns and contained fragments of euphoria.
I found “Nights” to be emotionally aloof, but never far from a moment of beauty, both in the screenplay written by Wong and crime novelist Lawrence Block, and in the gorgeous cinematography by Darius Khondji, who treats the frame like a neon wonderland of splashy colors and pointedly enigmatic staging. It’s a dazzling movie. However, Wong deepens his fascination with the step-printing process, coating the film with a jittery wax of overprocessed nonsense that I believe registers to the filmmaker as an intangible dreamlike quality. Wong loves the effect, and it’s used in “Nights” to a disturbing degree. I failed to see the appeal.
“My Blueberry Nights” is demonstrative, but glacial, and it takes a colossal amount of patience to stay with the wandering storyline and general indulgence of unbridled actorly emoting. The picture requires a full commitment to metered passion, and if that isn’t available to you, I wouldn’t bother trying to tackle this specialized experience.