My Blueberry Nights is just empty aesthetics, jam-packed with heavy-handed symbolism and Hallmark sentimentality.
You’re born, you go to school, you muck about for a few years and then you go travelling. It’s the stock rite of passage for young go-getters these days, and anyone who says different can go to hell.
Yet, as those who have journeyed to far away lands will surely attest, while the head insists we immerse ourselves in the culture and rituals of the new, the heart is always searching for that little piece of home.
In his new, American-set road movie, My Blueberry Nights, you get the sense that Wong Kar Wai is suffering from a terminal case of homesickness, desperately trying to locate the effervescent whir of downtown Hong Kong in the flat, unadorned planes of the US.
The dislocation is palpable, and his film offers up the sort of home-fried approximation of Americana usually reserved for the Macy’s Day Parades and border-town rodeos of this world. It’s the kind of film you might see in a souvenir store next to the personalised number plates and the 'God Bless America' T-shirts.
There are other problems. Committing casting hara-kiri not once, but twice, Wong makes the initial error of calling upon vapid coffee-table Jazz chanteuse Norah Jones to carry his film, but then trumps himself by partnering her up with pretty-boy acting tundra Jude Law.
Jones plays Elizabeth, a starry-eyed dilettante who discovers that her boyfriend has been doing the dirty on her and finds a shoulder to cry on in the form of Jeremy (Law), a chipper Manc café owner who has been a passive observer to myriad over-the-counter emotional breakdowns over the years. With a narrative nod to Bukowski and Kerouac, she decides the only way she can overcome her past is to look to the road, and so heads straight down Route 66 via Memphis, Reno and Vegas.
With his previous two films – In the Mood for Love and 2046 – Wong proved himself a cinematic stylist without equal, as well as a master of coiled sexual frisson and coolly monitored social nuance. My Blueberry Nights is just empty aesthetics, jam-packed with the well-intentioned musings on love and relationships that made Chungking Express such a hugely compassionate film, but with a heavy-handed symbolism and Hallmark sentimentality that ruins it.
The first sign of anything gelling with Wong’s aesthetic exuberance (the film is undeniably gorgeous) is David Strathairn’s nighthawk traffic cop, Arnie, whose tender performance offers the film's lone emotional sucker punch.
With Natalie Portman and Rachel Weisz cropping up for stock sassy bit-parts later on, the nature of Elizabeth’s spontaneous voyage of self-discovery quickly sums up the movie as a whole: elegiac, moderately tender, but far from transcendent.
It’s Wong Kar Wai, innit?
Ill judged and swooning take on relationships and the US.
In a career that has spanned 20 years, it’s his first slip up. We’ll let him of… This time.