What do John Woo and Wong Kar-Wai have in common? Perhaps the question telegraphs the answer, but that’s not going to stop me from taking a dump all over My Bluberry Nights. Snoozeville, this picture is.
To start at the end, I walked out of My Blueberry Nights really, really disappointed. Wong Kar-Wai is a favorite of mine. No one does dreamy urban romantic pop poetry like he does. Sofia tried with Lost In Translation, but that precious picture is a little to literal to be placed alongside the likes of Chungking Express or Fallen Angels.
Yet I couldn’t nail down exactly why I was disappointed. There were loads of reasons, no doubt. Miscasting? Sure. Sloppy script? Maybe. Unnecessary use of too many locations? Definitely. But all these things do not necessarily equal a disappointing movie. Give me a minute and I could easily come up with a handful of miscast, sloppily told, multi-located movies that are at least interesting to watch (Jumper, anyone?). No, there was something else that let me down about Blueberry…
I didn’t really arrive at what so turned me off to Wong’s latest until last night, when I showed a friend of mine David Gordon Green’s All The Real Girls. Green’s microscopic treatment of romantic melodrama in small town West Virginia does exactly what Wong’s best films usually do – it brings the audience into an unfamiliar world, exciting in its uniqueness and attractive because of the detail with which it is presented.
My Blueberry Nights does not do this. My Blueberry Nights does the opposite of this. My Blueberry Nights is an American story told through the eyes of a foreigner. And the problem is that the world Wong brings us into is all too familiar to North America eyes, and yet feels wholly unfamiliar because it is so thoroughly deconstructed, then ultimately reconstructed with a brazen inaccuracy.
Wong’s success stories, and successful stories, are those that see him exploring a sort of pain and suffering I would argue is unique to the Asian, maybe even specifically the Chinese (maybe even more specifically the urban Hong Kong) experience. This little adventure of his suffers primarily because it is, fundamentally, inauthentic. Or maybe his characters are just not sympathetic. I think it’s both. On a narrative level the picture just…meanders.
Coincidentally, the script has a problem with striking resemblances to those that plague Kimberly Peirce’s Stop-Loss [see April 1 Moviegasm for review]. Wong sets up a potentially lovely romance between Jude Law and Norah Jones. Just as their relationship is becoming interesting, Wong puts Jones on a cross country road trip.
On the road, Jones encounters a number of wonderful actors in the roles of compelling characters in fantastically dramatic situations. Rachel Weisz and David Strathairn inhabit a blue collar town, and make that world interesting, for 20 or 30 minutes. But then they’re gone. Natalie Portman is the star of a contrived little story about a gambler in the West. But then she’s gone. And then the audience is back with Jones, who doesn’t really have the presence or movie star magnetism to carry this movie.
Now, I’m not saying putting your characters on the road is a bad idea. Y Tu Mama Tambien is a road movie, but there’s a three way at the end of that, and you kinda see it coming, so audiences are sticking around. Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back is a road movie, but that movie has jewel thieves and the Mystery Mobile and the star of Star Wars and Chris Rock asking a production assistant if his daddy knew that he served a nigga his coffee!? I mean, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a road movie. The most classic road movie of all time, Easy Rider, is great, and not just because of the pot and sex and motorcycles and Jack Nicholson. Although Blueberry Nights could have used a dash of debauchery.
What I’m having a hard time understanding is since when is it okay to split up your two leads, the two people who are presumably the emotional anchor of your film? I can almost guarantee this is something Robert McKee would frown upon. It doesn’t make any sense. And neither does My Blueberry Nights. And not in a cool, esoteric, avant garde sort of let-me-watch-that-again-before-judging kind of way. No. Just in a what-a-fucking-disaster kind of way.
Directors of the world, please, if you absolutely, positively, have to put your show on the road, do your audience a favor and let the leads hit the road as a team, as a single unit, one driving and one riding shotgun. Can you imagine if Thelma hit the road solo, sending Louise postcards through the whole damn movie? That’s what My Blueberry Nights is like. Minus Harvey Keitel as a Texas “Investigator”. Minus a shirtless Brad Pitt in a cowboy hat. Minus a suicide over the edge of the Grand Canyon. Minus, minus, minus.