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MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Norah Jones, Jude Law, David Strathairn, Rachel Weisz, Natalie Portman
Director: Wong Kar Wai
Audio: English 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Video: Color, letterbox widescreen
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Features: Making-of featurette, interview, still galleries, trailers
Length: 95 minutes
Release Date: July 1, 2008

How do you say goodbye to someone you can’t imagine living without?

Film ****

More so than any other Hong Kong director, Wong Kar Wai can be described as a true visionary.  With an ethereal, non-linear style of story-telling, Wong Kar Wai throughout his career has crafted many unforgettable films resplendent with visually arresting imagery and lush, romantic overtones.  He has more films cited among the top hundred Hong Kong films ever made than any other Hong Kong director, and one early effort, Chungking Express (1994), has even been recognized by the respected cinema journal Sight and Sound as one of the ten best films of the past quarter-century.  An argument can be made, however, that his later romance In the Mood for Love (2000) is an even finer achievement and perhaps the director’s masterpiece.

Until now, however, Wong Kar Wai had been content to work within the Hong Kong film industry even as other notable Hong Kong directors such as John Woo, Tsui Hark, or the Pang Brothers were being courted by Hollywood.  But whereas those directors uniformly failed in their initial Hollywood efforts, chiefly through ill-advised compromises which diminished each’s distinctive style, Wong Kar Wai, in his much-belated American film directorial debut, My Blueberry Nights (2007), has remained true to his instincts and has crafted a passionate and magical film that rivals even the best of his early Hong Kong achievements.

My Blueberry Nights is a fascinating film to behold, a lyrical portrait of human relationships and how individuals deal with heartbreak in their own poignant, if flawed, ways.  The premise for the film arose from a short treatment about a conversation between two lonely people in a diner.  Interested in how the same story might play out in an American setting, Wong Kar Wai expanded upon his original story’s premise.  So was born My Blueberry Nights, a film that starts with the chance encounter between two lonely hearts in a New York diner but then explores the physical and emotional journey for the central character, a heartbroken young woman learning how to restore stability in her life following a devastating breakup with an unfaithful boyfriend.

It has been said that Wong Kar Wai “makes movies like a jazz musician.”  If so, then who better to have on hand for My Blueberry Nights than a soft jazz chanteuse like Norah Jones?  The very popular young vocalist and pianist has made cameo appearances in previous films, but My Blueberry Nights represents her true film acting debut.  Jones portrays the film’s central character, Lizzie, and she is aptly supported by a chorus of very talented A-list actors, too - Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Rachel Weisz, and David Strathairn among them.

My Blueberry Nights opens in a New York City diner as Lizzie first learns of the betrayal by her boyfriend.  Shattered, she yearns for a friendly shoulder upon which to lean.  She soon finds it in the kindly personage of café owner Jeremy (Jude Law), a British emigré who views life through the analogy of food items on his menu, remembering customers by the victuals and edibles they order and the choices they make.  As the evenings progress, Jeremy soon habitually sets forth an expectant plate of untouched blueberry pie for his nocturnal visitor.  Each evening, ‘round the midnight hours, Lizzie appears at Jeremy’s diner to commiserate.  Each evening, she ponders her own fate while eating a slice of blueberry pie, a dessert that, for the young woman, reflects her own sense of diminished self-worth - an otherwise perfectly fine dish, yet one nevertheless slighted and neglected.

Eventually, Lizzie decides to leave the city, partly to distance herself from the memories of her heartbreak and partly to re-evaluate her own life and to rediscover her own dignity.  Lizzie’s journey will take her along a thousand-mile trail of menial waitressing jobs in places as remote as Memphis and even Las Vegas.  Throughout her traveling, Lizzie’s foundation, her bedrock of stability, remains Jeremy, to whom she regularly writes postcards, perhaps as a personal diary to mark her own progress, perhaps as cathartic release for her own internal healing process.

Lizzie will met others with their own relationship woes - Arnie (David Strathairn), cop by day, local sad drunk by night, moping after a broken marriage.  Or, Sue Lynn (Rachel Weisz), a young woman longing to flee from a small town existence but torn by the ultimate sacrifices needed to do so.  Or, Leslie (Natalie Portman), a lonely poker player whose tough, independent exterior belies unresolved familial pains within.  And there is always lovelorn Jeremy, too, who in his café cherishes a fishbowl of long-forgotten keys left behind by customers, Lizzie included.  He throw no keys out, rationalizing that to do so would be to forever shut the doors upon potential lost stories still awaiting to be re-heard.  For Jeremy, Lizzie represents one such story, and he awaits the day that she might return, if ever.

Ultimately, My Blueberry Nights is a film about letting go and moving on.  It is a film about the hard lessons taught in life and how we as individuals might learn to respond to them through the experiences, tragic or pleasant, of others.  The film succeeds as much through its lush mood as through its story, deceptively simple yet ultimately quite touching and heartfelt.  Jeremy, Arnie, Sue Lynn - everyone that Lizzie meets is a soul in the mood for love, but finding love or finding peace is sometimes a difficult journey that often ends in the very same place from which it is begun...but hopefully with newly-acquired wisdom and appreciation for life’s lessons.

Video ****

My Blueberry Nights is glorious eye candy.  All of Wong Kar Wai’s previous films have been beautiful to behold, and this is certainly the case with his American film debut as well.  Images are sharp and intensely colorful., and the pristine video quality perfectly captures the film’s sense of a luxurious dream-state on celluloid. 

Audio ****

My Blueberry Nights is Wong Kar Wai’s first English language film.  Audio is in 5.1 Dolby digital with a muted but immersive spread, ideal for a dim-light, romantic setting.  The soft jazz background music helps to set the mood, and it should be no surprise that Norah Jones is one of the featured performers on the soundtrack (she doesn’t actually sing in the film itself).

On a side note, it is amusing to observe Rachel Weisz and Natalie Portman each affecting a southern patois, although both actresses are quite superb and deliver stand-out performances.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Norah Jones is not the only key singer-actress in this film.  Someone else makes a surprise cameo appearance and contributes to the soundtrack as well!

Features **

The featurette “Making My Blueberry Nights” (15 min.) offers standard interview clips with the actors and director as they discuss the film.  A few deleted scenes can be glimpsed as well.

The Wong Kar Wai interview (18 min.) was conducted at the Museum of Moving Images and includes a Q&A session with a largely unseen audience.  Wong Kar Wai fields questions about his film philosophy, directing without a rigid script, and working with musician-actors in general.

The still galleries section offers 24 location scout photos and 60 production/publicity photos.  These gorgeous photos provide a very good representation of Wong Kar Wai’s distinctive visual style.

There are trailers for My Blueberry Nights, The Deal, the Lou Reed's concert film Berlin, Anthony Minghella’s Breaking and Entering, and Denzel Washington’s The Great Debaters.  And for the health-conscious, there is also an anti-smoking advertisement.

Summary:

Lush and bittersweet, and certainly one of 2007’s best films, the memorable My Blueberry Nights does not disappoint and should certainly win director Wong Kar Wai many new admirers here in the States.  Fans of Norah Jones will likewise delight in the film's romantic and dreamy ambiance, making it an ideal project for the soft jazz singer.

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