Soggy Pastry

Running Time 90 minutes
Written and directe
by Wong Kar Wai
Starring Norah Jones, Jude Law and Natalie Portman

Another undeserving new critical favorite is Chinese director Wong Kar Wai, whose films Happy Together and In the Mood for Love were like IV drips administered by an anesthesiologist. Now someone has unwisely talked him into making his first one in English. Big mistake. It all seems twice as boring, pointless and narcotic when you can understand the words. I like the title, My Blueberry Nights, which is every bit as meaningless as the rest of the movie. But in the first sentence you hear, the narration of Jude Law says, “I don’t know how to begin, ’cause this story’s been told before.” Again and again.

Without a plot or any kind of connective tissue to hold the vignettes together, nothing about My Blueberry Nights makes any kind of coherent sense as it follows Norah Jones, the recording artist, around in her acting debut. She can’t act, and I’ve got news—she’s no jazz singer, either, even though she’s managed to forge a bogus reputation as one. Still, here she is, in practically every scene, lovely to look at but so insecure and uncertain about how to speak a simple declarative sentence that she seems to be hiding in the corner of each frame. What can I tell you? Jude Law works in a New York diner as a waiter, bartender, short-order cook, or combination of all three. It’s hard to tell, since you rarely ever get a glimpse of a customer, and practically nobody ever eats there. They just waft in to leave their apartment keys in a large fishbowl. On day one (the days are all numbered, but the movie seems to go on for years, so you soon stop counting), Ms. Jones drops in and orders blueberry pie, which thrills Mr. Law because absolutely everybody hates the blueberry pie. Their eyes meet. Nothing happens. On day nine, he gives her the whole blueberry pie because nobody else wants it. After this movie, neither do I.

So she shifts around for a year with the days popping up in no particular order, which is a good thing because it saves us from being forced to live through every minute of it. Cut to Memphis, Tenn., and a waitress gig in a late-night bar, where she befriends an alcoholic, self-destructive cop (David Strathairn) and his trashy estranged wife (Rachel Weisz), who mostly just yells a lot, driving him to a suicidal car wreck. Ms. Jones occupies her time by writing hundreds of postcards to the delicatessen back in New York where Mr. Law, who has no return address, just waits, staring at the uneaten blueberries. In Las Vegas, she teams up with a bottle-blond poker player (Natalie Portman), who cons her out of her life savings and gives the best performance in the film, although she does nothing significant and says nothing worth remembering. The whole thing ends up back in the New York diner. The keys have all been returned to their original owners, but there’s still plenty of blueberry pie, which, as you might imagine, looks stale as an old Reebok by now.

What to make of all this? It runs only 90 minutes but feels like nine days. The keys are symbols of loss and the blueberries are symbols of failure, and who cares? Every scene is composed of fragments of words and camera angles that never come together. The trajectory consists of more pregnant pauses than any film should be allowed. My guess is that it’s about people who feel but never articulate, who love but never connect emotionally. Actors will do anything, but with nothing to play, they all appear to be marking time before the lunch break. Worst of all, the movie is plagued with annoying inserts showing close-ups of cream running down the sides of dishes heaped with blueberry pie. If nothing else, it should do wonders for Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers.

Coming along so shortly after we all grew delirious with tabloid joy over the “$4,300 Misunderstanding” featuring power brokers with unsatisfactory sex lives who need women in spike heels to step on their privates as a release from being control freaks themselves, the cardboard stick figures in My Blueberry Nights could use a little sex to spark up their empty lives—as well as the film. Since it began shooting in June 2006, it’s been on the shelf ever since, and you’ll instantly know why. It’s like watching ice melt.

Soggy Pastry