Some romantic dramas are supposed to be felt with your heart, others need to be consumed with your eyes. Wong Kar-wai’s lustrous My Blueberry Nights is definitely the latter. A love story with frames so beautiful that they make your eyes water, it is a little like the dessert that it takes its name from — a delight when you are enjoying its pleasures, but with an aftertaste that is perhaps a tad too much of everything.
Known for his relationship dramas Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love, My Blueberry Nights (2007) was Kar-wai’s first English-language film, starring Jude Law, Norah Jones, Rachel Weisz, Natalie Portman and David Strathairn. The movie, despite receiving mixed reviews and doing a moderate business, was a colourful treat of a movie. Admittedly, My Blueberry Nights cannot hold a candle to the filmmaker’s more popular and acclaimed works. However, I would like to believe that it has carved its own sweet space in Wong Kar-wai’s illustrious filmography. And of course, not for nothing was it nominated for Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
But first, to the plot. The film’s storyline, which should ideally be its strongest link, is perhaps the most fragile part of My Blueberry Nights. The narrative centres around Norah Jones’ character Elizabeth, who is hoping to mend her broken heart by going on a cross-country road trip on her own. She one day stops by a cafeteria run by Jude Law’s Jeremy. There is a spark, but Elizabeth doesn’t drop her plan to stop for romance. Throughout, she tries to stay in touch with Jeremy whilst meeting a few interesting characters along the way. That’s not the gist of the plot; it is the heart of the film.
Now, here arises a few questions — what do you watch a film for, what are the takeaways when you really break things down? What holds it together or makes an audience sit through the entirety of it? For me, it is either the story or the performances. It is usually that simple. Those are the two main things that decide if it is a good or a bad film, personally speaking. The thing about My Blueberry Nights is that it doesn’t fit really fit in either of those boxes, which is not such a great quality per se. The performances are earnest, but it doesn’t make you want to stand up and applaud. This is primarily because the story itself doesn’t have the pull. Kar-wai tries to assimilate all that he seems to know about the American culture into 1 hour and 30 minutes. The open roads, the free women, the love stories falling apart continuously — he takes all these things together and puts it on film. There is no story, no character evolvement, which is what dims the light of My Blueberry Nights.
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But thankfully, it is not all a lost cause. There are endearing performances and the protagonist is someone you cannot help but root for, thanks to her charisma, which is in large part due to Jazz sensation and Grammy-winning artiste Norah Jones. Once you realise that it is her debut acting role, her skills seem even more convincing. One feels a sense of familiarity, like they have seen that face on screen before (and I mean that in a good way). Her chemistry with Jude Law is another highlight of this movie.
But the winner here is the cinematography by the immensely talented Darius Khondji. You can disregard every bit of My Blueberry Nights as unremarkable, except the exquisite camera work. Khondji seems to work best when he has to capture people. The kiss sequence featuring Jeremy and Elizabeth was phenomenally shot — gentle, sensuous, altogether lovely. It is these things that makes My Blueberry Nights memorable in some respects, which otherwise lacks heart.