03 May 2008
A La Mode
First thing: much to my relief, My Blueberry Nights is not a bad movie—more like comfort food from Wong Kar Wai. I knew I would be fine in the first five minutes, caught in the fast-paced shots through glass (not just the restaurant windows, but through the cake case as well). Also the digital film helped me immediately distance this project from In the Mood for Love, 2046, etc. It seems WKW was telling us digital is America today (and, as my admiration for Miami Vice shows, I think he is right).
The negative buzz for My Blueberry Nights did give me pause. I read repeated criticisms of the “trite dialogue.” And I would mostly agree with that claim as it pertains to Blueberry while retorting that WKW dialogue is always bordering on trite. It’s just usually spoken more exotically, in Cantonese or Mandarin. What Zhang Ziyi says in 2046 does not really matter to me—I am more fascinated by the shapes her mouth makes as she says it. In a Believer column Klosterman objected because it wasn’t a good road movie. But it wasn’t a road movie at all, any more than As Good as It Gets is a road movie because it has one crucial sequence in a car. Thanks for playing Chuck.
It’s fun to watch the extremely beautiful Jude Law (Jeremy) try to harness his natural screen personality into something more like Tony Leung’s (clearly this role is the Leung part in WKW’s best known films). Law gets the charm down, naturally, but can’t always hide is overriding exuberance. He’s likable even though he admits to watching security tapes of Elizabeth (Norah Jones) over and over until they lose fidelity, which is, you know, really creepy. But he has a darling white smile and we feel that he deserves his last kiss—after all it started with the honest impulse to get the ice cream off the lips of a damsel in distress.
Said damsel Elizabeth looks like the Hong Kong icons we’ve seen before in slow left to right pans, first in the improbable hat check area of the Memphis bar (mirroring Faye Wong) and then sidesaddle before a slot machine in slum casino (very Gong Li). (I suppose WKW might congratulate Nevada as the last bastion of barside smoking in America.) Throughout, Elizabeth (sometimes Betty, Liz, Beth, etc.) looks quite nice in your average primary-colored waitress uniform and has a very nice way of saying “thank you” to the various addicts and losers she draws in to her circle of trust.
The dialogue issues are kept to a minimum thanks to the lack of lengthy speeches in the film. One exception is for Rachel Weisz’s Suelynn (echoes of Su Lizhen?), who goes on for several minutes too long about David Strathairn’s bad cop courtship. I wish her monologue took less time because what follows it, a blurred (then focused) pan that lingers across the rain-slick street, shows the emotion more precisely than her words.
WKW films are about gestures—gestures of one person towards another but more importantly the gestures (caresses really) of the camera towards the actors. Think of the long shot of Faye Wong’s android in 2046, walking unsteadily away in her red-lit platform heels. Think of the camera keeping close company with Maggie Leung in the noodle shop rain of In the Mood for Love. And the shots of New York trains are pure Chungking Express, the film this one most closely resembles. Some other geographies are not as well understood. How long did it take him to find romantic shots of central Nevada—I’ve never wanted a drive over more than the one I took down that “loneliest road in America.” (Yes, it succeeds in making you want, desperately, to reach Las Vegas.) But he found the best Nevada haircut for Natalie Portman—I can attest to at least that bit of poker room accuracy.
The Blueberry music is a tough one. While not as pitch perfect as Chungking’s Cranberries, In the Mood for Love’s “Quizas Quizas Quizas” or 2046’s “Christmas Song,” Cat Power’s “The Greatest” did make me smile each time it arrived. Though, thankfully, it did not come with Jeremy’s ex Chan Marshall (named “Katya” which is a little bit giggly and a little bit scary—Twentynine Palms scars are deep!).
The standout scene is certainly Jeremy at the bar calling every diner in Memphis looking for Elizabeth, finally reaching her, giving her the full speech about how he misses her and admitting that he knows this is not the right Elizabeth but he wanted to say it anyway. Classic WKW, a moment of pure joy for me, a reminder of why I write.