Chinese director Wong Kar-Wai is well known for his lush stylistics, and the opening sequence of My Blueberry Nights is an exercise in texture, with deeply layered, slow shutter cinematography shot through glass and fabric, all in a glow of reds and oranges and neon blues. Lost in the steam bath of colour and light is Elizabeth (Nora Jones), unlucky in love, who’s come to a small café in New York run by Jeremy (Jude Law) in case her ex might drop by. Of course he doesn’t, and she gets talking to Jeremy who always has a slice of blueberry pie left at the end of the night for a hungry soul.
Not ready for love, Elizabeth – now Liz, soon to be Lizzie or Betty or Beth – heads South where she slides into another lushly decorated bar, now as waitress working double shifts to save for a car that she can drive somewhere. And although she doesn’t really do that much on-screen driving in this not-really-a-road-movie, she does have a journey of sorts – first helping alcoholic policeman Arnie (David Strathaim) deal with the separation from his wife Sue-Lynne (Rachel Weisz), and then getting tangled with glossy gambler Leslie (Natalie Portman), another drifting character in this mostly nighttime world of small bars and roadside cafes. All the while Elizabeth writes postcards to poor lonely Jeremy– but never tells him where she is.
As well as his style, Kar-Wai has a reputation for loose narrative, and this is no exception. Just as we re-orientate ourselves around a new character, the story shifts and moves on. Nora Jones – in her debut feature role – isn’t strong enough as the girl looking for meaning, to carry us on the random journey. She’s meant to be the glue that pulls this story together, but whilst her love-lost look in close-up is gorgeous, there’s no substantial performance from her anywhere else – and she can’t match the expert work done by the rest of the cast.
Overall it’s a languorously slow-baked affair, beautifully shot by cinematographer Darius Khondji (who’s extensive credits include Bernado Bertolucci’s Stealing Beauty and David Fincher’s Se7en) but what Wong Kar Wai finally pulls out of the oven is a series of rich and moist muffins rather than one whole pie.