Movie Review: My Blueberry Nights2 years ago
Kar-Wai Wong, as well as being a major Hong Kong cinematic auteur made his splash in the West with the release of his Chinese language films In The Mood For Love – now considered a classic – and 2046. That success didn’t translate into English when he made his first American movie: My Blueberry Nights.
Watching the film you can see why, it is slow-moving to the point of stagnation and vast amounts of what is happening is conveyed in small details of performance or props. The plot, such as it is, begins with Jude Law (who is playing Jude Law with a Manchester accent) and Norah Jones (who is making a creditable move from record groove to film reel) bonding over her post-breakup heartbreak and the cafe’s leftover blueberry pie in a series of late night conversations.
From there the perspective switches to Jones’ character who travels up and down the US to find ‘the long way across the road.’ She meets an alcoholic called Arnie played with a wonderful sense of shifting sympathies by David Strathairn, and his flamboyant ex-wife Sue Lynne played by a scenery chewing Rachel Weiss.
Arnie’s pockets full of one day AA chips are then echoed half-way across the country as Jones’ character meets Leslie (who is a Vegas poker pro played by Natalie Portman in a wig) who gets Jones to stake her in a game after a one-outer over two-outer bad-beat.
If none of this sounds much like a plot then you’d be right. The vignettes are more about the character’s interactions as they deal with losses which reflect and refract Jones’ own heartbreak and allow her character to complete that most privileged of story arcs: finding herself.
Unsurprisingly, didn’t make much of a splash at the box office when it came out in 2007, and the critics were mostly either bored or mild in their praise. I lean towards very mild praise. It is extremely flawed, but not exactly terrible.
First of all it is gorgeously shot, with the whole film looking a little like the Focus Film logo. And the patterning of detail is precise without being showy. For example the repeated detail of poker chips, of the bar fight, and the role of keys and cars in each of the vignettes. These are all threaded beautifully.
And there are some great performances: Law is charming, Strathairn is pathetic, Weiss bathetic, Portman spiky, and Jones surprisingly competent. The script is a bit of fluff, more substantial than mere chick-flick, but less than a serious drama, and the dialogue is all people who talk entirely in stories about their lives. But all of the performers are doing their best to juice their lines until the pips squeak.
The poker is much more convincing than most. Although the first hand we see is an insane long shot, the reaction to it is commensurate with the astonishing luck in play. And Portman’s character is one of the more convincing grinders we’ve seen on screen since Rounders.
As to whether or not I’d recommend it to the average PokerTube reader? I think I’d have to flip a coin. But at the time of writing you can catch it for whatever Netflix subscriptions cost which seems worth the gamble.
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