My Blueberry Nights
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My Blueberry Nights

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One of the most venerable genres in film is the road trip flick. It affords the opportunity to introduce the characters to new situations and unusual people as they travel along their path. Typically there are several well established variations of this theme. There is the buddy movie where two or more friends hit the road. No one did that as well as the gold standard of the road movie; Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Then we have the family road trip. This is something than millions of Americans can readily identify with. The best in this format is the original National Lampoon movie featuring Chevy Chase. Finally there is the trip for the sake of self discovery. Usually this overlaps with the buddy flick using a couple of people on the road. These can range from the dark ‘Thelma and Louise’ to the film that helped define a generation, ‘Easy Rider’. The film ‘My Blueberry Night’s takes a more solitary approach to the self discover movie as the young woman the story centers on travels the country looking for herself. The major pitfall of a film like this is over indulgence and this movies trips right into it. It is understandable how the flick was green lit by the studios; on paper it sounds endearing; a great chick flick or perhaps a date movie. It also features the talents of a world renowned writer director and attracted a strong cast. The downside is that the executions is overly emotional and let’s just say a bit too artsy for most tastes. Even with this said the movie has its moments and is quite beautifully filmed with a few very good performances.

Kar Wai Wong has been a writer and director for many years now. For many film goers here in the States many think that all Asian directors do is action flicks with tons of martial arts and wire work to wow the viewers. Wong has taken a different part in his films. He has expended his resume to include most genres that are available. He has dabbled in science fiction, mystery and has a strong list of credits in comedy and drama. This film represents his first English language film. I have seen many of his Hong Kong films and have always been impressed with his ability to tell a strong through his camera work. Here he appears to try too hard to bring all of his considerable talents to bear in one film. As the screenwriter he does an admirable job of crafting a story that can reach the audience on an emotional level. We have all had moments when we felt betrayed and wanted to just go somewhere and start over again. The young woman in this story, Elizabeth, portrayed here by chanteuse Norah Jones, takes these feelings and literally goes with them. The heart of the script is how she goes from the one experiencing heart break to a voyeur watching feelings play out in others. As this progresses Elizabeth moves from being the object of our sympathy to the representation of the audience observing as little life dramas play out in front of her and us. This shifting of the focus of the main role as well as the primary vantage point is novel and has not been done in a long time. It does make for a more difficult script to manage but Wong does well in his effort.

Wong is well known as a director but it is important to remember that he is not from this country. Americans do tend towards a self centric view of the world and sometimes needs a little reminder that there are other viewpoints shaped by growing up in other nations. What is interesting here is this is primarily a movie about American life from the viewpoint of an outsider to our culture. Wong is looking at our country through eyes that are more familiar with the Asian way of living. Think of it as an impressionistic painting. It is not intended to paint an accurate picture; it is the impressions of the artist. Wong uses shapes and colors in a much different way than most of his American counterparts. He is concerned more with how the audience feels about the feelings depicted than the actual situations evoking those emotions. Here Wong aims his vision at us and it is just possible that many of those you disliked this film just didn’t fully comprehend what was being done here. For example when many American directors want to show a reaction shot of an actor’s face they linger for a brief moment and move on. Wong allows time for the audience to study the face and move beyond the superficial. By having the main character move around the country Wong is permitted to make the film more episodic in nature. This reflects a different way of seeing a person’s life as a series of vignettes some with us in the lead others with us as the observer. In some cases Elizabeth is the leading lady then she transforms into a Greek chorus reflecting on the dramas of others.

As the movie begins Elizabeth decides to stop into a familiar diner. The owner, Jeremy (Jude Law) is friendly towards her but his somewhat troubled. Elizabeth is looking for her boyfriend. Jeremy remembers that he was in the other night and ordered two pork chop platters. The other dinner was for a young woman who was with him. Elizabeth is shocked at the realization that her boyfriend for the last five years was cheating on her. She throws her apartment keys to the counter and tells Jeremy to give them to him if he ever wants them back. She spends the next few days traveling on the trains between the place she once share with the love of her life and the diner. She opens up to Jeremy and they become friendly. Eventually she feels it is time to move on with her life and that she needs a change of scenery. She travels to Memphis, Tennessee where she gets two jobs; one as a waitress in a café and the other in a bar. She now goes by the name of Lizzie. It is in the bar that she comes across Arnie (David Strathairn), a local police officer. He spends his days protecting and serving while his nights are mostly for drinking. He is upset over his wife Sue Lynne (Rachel Weisz) leaving him. She comes into the bar and a fight ensues where he draws his gun on his estranged wife. He winds up dying in a car crash and Sue Lynne leaves Elizabeth a large tip towards her goal of getting car. She moves on again now calling herself Beth. She gets another witnessing job at a casino and meets a gambler, Leslie (Natalie Portman). Beth gives Leslie all her savings for a deal. If Leslie wins they split the profits; if she loses Beth gets her car.

This is the first time acting for Norah Jones. She has made a name for herself as a fantastic singer with a voice that is resounding and rich. Unlike the plethora of pop princesses Jones does not take on a role that is beyond her new acting abilities. The nature of this film affords Jones a chance to play center stage as well as move into the background while other actors carry the story. She has a great deal of potential but is not there yet. She also gets to work opposite some great actors. Weisz gives her usuall all to her brief but intense role. Portman demonstrates an ability to get into little off beat characters like the one she plays here. Law demonstrates more emotional depth here than he has been given of late.

This is a film that may take more than one viewings to fully understand. It is artistic almost to the point of distraction but overall well worth the effort. This DVD release is part of the new Miriam Collection from Genius Products and The Weinstein Corporation. This is a line that features art films from the independent film world. I certainly look forward to the future members of this group.

Posted 06/21/08

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