"Pie a la Mediocre"
Wong Kar Wai states regarding his first English-speaking film, MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS, “Sometimes the tangible distance between two persons can be quite small, but the emotional one can be miles. MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS is a look at those distances, from various angles. I wanted to explore these expanses, both figuratively and literally, and the lengths it takes to overcome them.”
While his goal and intentions are good, his ability to demonstrate this using the English language is novice. MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS is artistically pleasing, with a broad palette of warm and representational colors, along with a motley collection of filming techniques. However, there is too great a distance between the characters and the audience. The plights of the characters do not strike home because there always seems to be something missing; namely, strong and believable dialogue.
The leading character, Elizabeth (a/k/a Lizzie and Beth), played by Norah Jones in her rather awkward acting debut, is broken-hearted over the breakup with her boyfriend. She turns her attentions to Jeremy, the owner of a local corner bakery played by Jude Law, who helps her drown her tears in blueberry pie a la mode every night while she pours out her heart. While Norah has a good camera appeal, she is limited in her dramatic range and seems a bit over her head in a leading role. She looks good, but does not connect.
Ready to seek a new life, Elizabeth leaves New York and heads for Memphis, snagging a waitressing job at a corner bar. There she befriends a self-destructive alcoholic cop named Arnie, played by David Strathairn, and his estranged wife, Sue Lynne, dramatically overplayed by Rachel Weiz. Sue Lynne confesses to an adulterous affair, leaving Arnie at the mercy of his womping $800 bar tab.
[Spoilers follow] Arnie shares his woes with Elizabeth (now Lizzie) and dives deeper into his bottomless shotglass of whiskey. Several barroom brawls erupt, and Sue Lynne storms out in a profanity ridden tirade, causing Arnie to drink himself into oblivion, give his cash to Lizzie to buy her much needed car, and then crash his own car into a street light in what appears to be a suicide.
David Strathairn, as Arnie, gives one of the most believable characterizations of the film. His gut-wrenching portrayal of the pains of alcohol addiction is extraordinary, and is one of the few performances with the depth to really touch the viewer’s soul. Rachel Weiz, as Sue Lynne, struts herself onto the screen as a very clichéd southern tramp. Her character, Sue Lynne, is basically despicable, supposedly redeeming herself after Arnie’s death by paying off his $800 bar tab. Unfortunately, her character is just too unlovable.
The entire Memphis episode is dark and depressing. Artistically, it gives a very realistic reflection of the ambience of an old Memphis corner bar with its deep red and brown tones and low light. But, too much of a good thing doesn’t work. Between the depressing atmosphere and poor old drunken Arnie, the viewer comes up choking for air.
Next Elizabeth (now Beth) is in Nevada, waiting on a blackjack game already in progress. Here the spunky and conniving gambler, Leslie, played by Natalie Portman, sees Beth as an easy con for more cash. Natalie Portman, as Leslie, gives a fresh performance as the crafty young card shark, running from her gambling mentor father. This time, the addiction is gambling, and Leslie has been trapped in its hold since childhood. She convinces Beth that she can win back her money if only Beth will loan her the cash to get back in the game. Leslie promises Beth her Jaguar if she loses, which she does. She agrees to give Beth the car, but needs a ride to Las Vegas, and the two head off into the sunset like Thelma and Louise.
A phone call from a Las Vegas hospital alerts Leslie that her father has had a heart attack and is near death. Believing that this is another one of her father’s tricks to get her home, she has Beth go to the hospital room, only to find that he has died. Crushed by the finality of her father’s death, Leslie confesses to Beth that she has lied about losing the blackjack game, and, then, to make restitution for her sin, she buys Beth a car.
Elizabeth drives back to New York, surprising Jeremy, who feeds her another piece of blueberry pie a la mode. She falls asleep on the counter, and he licks the ice cream from her face. And, the movie ends where it began, but now, Elizabeth has learned that the heartache she once felt was nothing compared to the real tragedies of those whose lives had touched her own. Lesson learned: “the wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23]; and, “For he that sows to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that sows to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting” [Galatians 6:8].
MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS attempts to tap deep into the human condition, but leaves the viewer unfulfilled. With no reference to God (other than a string of obscenities) or any kind of spirituality, the movie is left with the theme of man’s inhumanity to man, and that, in itself, makes for a very lonely and hopeless conclusion.
(H, LL, V, S, AA, D, M) Light humanist worldview; three obscenities and nine profanities (not conversational, but during heated argument); implied adulterous behavior, embracing/kissing, man licks ice cream off of woman’s mouth; alcohol and gambling addiction; drunken barroom brawls in one sequence and a supporting character commits suicide by crashing a car; half of movie takes place in two different bars with alcohol use, drunkenness, and supporting character is a tragic alcoholic destroyed by his condition; smoking; and, gambling addiction, lying and rebellion against parental authority, but all the dysfunctional behavior has negative or tragic results.
MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS is a character drama about Elizabeth, a young woman in New York who pours her heart out to the owner of a bakery shop after she breaks up with her boyfriend. The owner listens to her woes as he feeds her blueberry pie with ice cream. Seeking a new life, Elizabeth heads for Memphis and then Las Vegas. In Memphis, she gets a job as a waitress at a corner bar, where she befriends a self-destructive alcoholic cop and his estranged wife. When tragedy strikes the cop, she moves to Vegas, where she encounters an addicted female gambler. When the gambler’s father dies suddenly, Elizabeth heads back to New York, realizing that her problems are minor compared to these people.
MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS contains some foul language and references to alcoholism, adultery and a gambling addiction, but this negative content is not extreme, nor is it promoted. In fact, the movie dramatizes the real-life effects of sin on a number of distinctly dysfunctional people. The movie’s outlook is basically secular, however. Also, the acting is mediocre, other than David Strathairn’s performance. MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS lacks satisfying flavors.