Fans of Chinese director Wong Kar Wai's dreamy, romantic films will find "My Blueberry Nights" a luscious treat, although newcomers to his world of sensuous longing will no doubt wonder what all the fuss is about. For those in the know it will be a slice of heaven; others will find it tough to swallow.
Wong's first English-language film is slight in incident and its characters are reserved to the point of mystery, but it offers viewers a lyrical emotional chord to cling to. The impressionistic drama offers three separate perspectives on love and its discontents.
The action begins in New York, where boho cafe owner Jeremy (Jude Law) comforts Elizabeth (jazz singer Norah Jones in her debut role), whose boyfriend has left her for another woman. He plies her with sympathy and blueberry pie, the ideal cure for heartbreak. The pair dance through a tentative courtship for several nights before Elizabeth leaves on a road trip to begin a new life and Jeremy remains behind, pining.
In Memphis, she becomes a cocktail waitress, observing the story rather than driving it. She takes a protective interest in Arnie (David Strathairn), an alcoholic cop drowning his sorrows over his wife's infidelity. Rachel Weisz plays Sue Lynne, a tramp who flaunts her younger boyfriend in public until Arnie snaps. He attacks the other man, threatens Sue Lynne and ultimately leaves tragedy in his wake.
Moving on, Elizabeth finds work as a waitress at a Nevada casino, where high-stakes gambler Leslie (Natalie Portman) is trapped in a losing streak. Eager to get back to the poker table, she offers her brand-new Jaguar in exchange for Elizabeth's savings. The following day they take a road trip to Las Vegas, negotiating the details of the car swap while Elizabeth helps Leslie settle her differences with her dying father. The ending brings the film full circle over a slice of blueberry pie in New York.
The film is sensually beautiful, shot in a supercharged palette like Van Gogh working in neon, and blocked in compositions that emphasize the melancholy distance between the lovelorn characters.
At times, the visuals overwhelm the actors, who sometimes operate in slow motion. From its opening closeup images of vanilla ice cream runoff sluicing through hillocks of warm pie a la mode to the fadeout image of a long-delayed kiss, "My Blueberry Nights" appeals to the senses even when it leaves the intellect hungry.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186