My man Wong Kar-wai’s style is ossifying faster and more depressingly than my gal Joan Crawford’s mug did back in the day. Like 2046 before it, My Blueberry Nights is a fetching folly—an ode to neon lights, trains, countertops nd ostentatious panes of glass. The title is fitting insofar as the idle chatter swapped by Elizabeth (Norah Jones) and Jeremy (Jude Law) inside a Gotham diner is a late-night affair carried over blueberry pie and obligatory cups of java, but Inanimate Objects In the Way of the Audience’s View is also apt. Every shot is painstakingly thought out, but less emphasis is placed on the human face than on the surfaces that reflect it and the objects that obscure it, and the overall effect is close to that of fetish art.
Wong’s view-askew shots of familiar Americana, from the Empire State Building to the desert terrain of the the West, provide fancy sutures for the many cramped scenes set inside bars, restaurants and casinos. The story, what there is of one, follows the brokenhearted Elizabeth on an ostensible soul-searching mission across the United States, but her run-ins with histrionic loons played by Rachel Weisz and Natalie Portman open her eyes to nothing, though they provide her with opportunities to stand behind a bead curtain in Memphis and wear a cowboy hat in Nevada. The film is a strange bird: Jones gives gratuitous expression, via voiceover, to some embryonic theme about left-behind memories that doesn’t resonate across the entire story, while topics of conversation are prone to revolving around opening doors and crossing streets. Even the film’s one delicious bit of dialogue—“Not the type I would prefer to have my pork chops with,” from the bewitching Jeremy to Elizabeth, with love—gives the overall effect of intent and meaning lost in translation.
No less than Wim Wenders’s American-made quilts, Wong’s vision is a romantic one, but what is he romanticizing? Cars, like Jones’s dull music, figure prominently, both as objects of pleasure and destruction, but it’s a stretch to posit the film as an aesthete’s commentary on American consumerism, especially given that Wong seems to actually enjoy Jones’s sleepy-time jazz. Ultimately, Wong’s American locales feel as superfluous as his editing scheme, by turns antsy and enervated, and haphazard use of slow motion, which seems to signal stripteases or past-life regressions that never materialize. To be fair, Wong’s Happy Together was about as South American as My Blueberry Nights is rooted in a realistic sense of Americana, but Happy Together, like In the Mood for Love, doesn’t lack for the pathos that might have saved this gorgeous mess.