Monday, April 28, 2008

My Blueberry Nights

Wong Kar-wai's My Blueberry Nights (2007) is about late night diners where the broken-hearted arrive at closing time to eat the whole blueberry pie that no one ever orders--not necessarily because they like blueberry pie but as a sign of solidarity with it.

It's not unlike Wong's Chungking Express (1994), in which a broken-hearted cop (Takeshi Kaneshiro) eats can after can of expired pineapples, but sadder. Again there's a broken-hearted cop, this time a small town sheriff, but instead of pineapples he hits the sauce. If this isn't a detriment to his job performance, perhaps it's because he's the most dangerous person in the county.

The film opens in New York, where Jeremy (Jude Law), a lad from Manchester, runs a small diner. One night, Elizabeth (Norah Jones) walks through the door and leaves with Jeremy a set of keys belonging to her ex-boyfriend. Jeremy puts them in a jar with other keys that no one will ever claim. He could throw the keys away, but then those doors might never be opened again.

Like the cop in Chungking Express, Elizabeth over-identifies with food. When Jeremy explains that every night at closing time there's always one blueberry pie that no one's touched, she asks defensively, "What's wrong with blueberry pie?" "There's nothing wrong with blueberry pie. People just make other choices."

Many late nights and blueberry pies later, Elizabeth takes it on the road. In Tennessee, she works in a diner by day and a bar by night where she meets Arnie (David Stratharn), the alcoholic sheriff, and his ex-wife, Sue Lynne (Rachel Weisz). In Reno, she gets a job in a casino where she meets Leslie (Natalie Portman), a gambler who's every bit as untrusting as Elizabeth is naive.

Wong's favorite effect is to use a slow shutter speed which results in smeary, impressionistic images. At one point, he even uses it to film an insert of Leslie placing chips on a poker table. When the characters speak, Wong shoots at normal speed because he wants us to listen to what's being said.

The film is very charming. Like Elizabeth, it drifts amiably across the United States with no particular destination in mind. If it's not one of the great Wong Kar-wai films, that's alright by me. I happen to like blueberry pie.

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