Review: ‘Nights’ can leave you feeling blue

Both a supreme melancholic and a pop hipster, Hong Kong mood wiz Wong Kar Wai has made his first English-language feature, “My Blueberry Nights,” and it’s a dazzling letdown.

Serving up everything from Nashville honky-tonk to close-ups of ice cream melting into purplish pie filling, the filmmaker responsible for the heady “Chungking Express” and the exquisitely sad “2046” has crafted a combination road tale, romance and dollop of Americana that treats the senses, but lacks emotional power.

While displaying more Hollywood-style dramatics and sunny closure than usual, Wong is characteristically plot-spare and bluesy in this three-act dream puff that begins in Manhattan.

In a diner recalling the noodle joints of Wong’s “In the Mood for Love” as a comfort spot for sad-eyed soul mates, Elizabeth (Norah Jones), a romantically burned lonely heart, and Jeremy (Jude Law), the proprietor who provides her with pie and sympathy, sweetly click and give the movie almost a core before Elizabeth leaves on a cross-country self-discovery journey.

The supporting cast provides the sizzle in Nashville and Las Vegas, where Elizabeth waits tables and interacts with some severely troubled sorts: a self-destructive alcoholic cop (David Strathairn); his seething, unhappy estranged wife (Rachel Weisz); a compulsive gambler (Natalie Portman) who takes Elizabeth for two kinds of rides.

Wong seems incapable of making a dull film, and as he delivers slow motion, super-close-ups of Elizabeth’s lips, conversations shot through window signage, and gooey blueberry pie, the movie scintillates visually. The characters’ struggles to connect generate numerous moments of heat.

Unfortunately, though, this amounts to nothing meaningful.

As scripted by Wong and co-writer Lawrence Block (the crime novelist), the characters and scenarios feel as cliched as they do iconic. The dialogue is drippy. The Elizabeth-Jeremy romance, relying largely on postcard correspondence to stay active, unfolds weakly. In sum, the dimension and resonance necessary to emotionally sustain us are missing.

The film also lacks an effective central performance. Jones, the jazz singer, isn’t an actress, and Wong’s clear affection for her qualities of sweetness and decency can’t justify casting her in a role demanding expressiveness.

The supporting players, meanwhile, are strong, with Strathairn and Portman the standouts, but their characters play like American-culture cutouts. In the Weisz-Strathairn segment, you half expect Big Daddy to appear.

Also noteworthy is Chan Marshall (singer-songwriter Cat Power), who has an impressive cameo as Jeremy’s ex and is present, as is Jones, on the bluesy-jazzy soundtrack.

CREDITS

My Blueberry Nights **1/2

Starring Norah Jones, Jude Law, Natalie Portman, David Strathairn, Rachel Weisz

Written by Wong Kar Wai, Lawrence Block

Directed by Wong Kar Wai

Rated PG-13

Running time 1 hour, 30 minutes

artsentertainmentOther Arts

Just Posted

On Sunday, California bore the brunt of what meteorologists referred to as a bomb cyclone and an atmospheric river, a convergence of storms that brought more than half a foot of rain to parts of the Bay Area, along with high winds, concerns about flash floods and the potential for heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada. Much of the Bay Area was under a flash flood watch on Sunday, with the National Weather Service warning of the potential for mudslides across the region. (NOAA via The New York Times)
Bomb cyclone, atmospheric river combine to pummel California with rain and wind

What you need to know about this historic weather event

National Weather Service flood watch in the San Francisco Bay Area for Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021. (National Weather Service via Bay City News)
Storm pounds Bay Area, leaving over 145,000 without power: Closures and updates

Torrential rainfall causes flooding, triggers evacuations in burn areas

Plan Bay Area 2050 is an expansive plan guiding the region’s growth and development over the next three decades. The regional plan addresses progressive policy priorities like a universal basic income and a region-wide rent cap, alongside massive new spending on affordable housing and transportation infrastructure. (Shutterstock)
Plan Bay Area 2050: Analyzing an extensive regional plan that covers the next 30 years

Here are the big ticket proposals in the $1.4 trillion proposal

A collaborative workspace for a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) in Coordinape is pictured at a recent blockchain meet up at Atlas Cafe. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)</ins>
Business without bosses: San Francisco innovators battle bureaucracy with blockchain

‘The next generation will work for three DAOs at the same time’

Most Read