Fri 18 Apr 2008
Look, whatever they’re exchanging, I want a piece!
2008 GOLDEN MUG NOMINEE:
Best Supporting Actor (David Strathairn)
Best Cinematography (Darius Khondji)
Best Song (“The Story” by Norah Jones)
The first feature-length English language motion picture by critically acclaimed director Wong Kar Wei has arrived, in the form of “My Blueberry Nights”. Most of the hype stateside has been about the casting of Norah Jones as the lead, although she has no previous acting experience. Well, apparently we should all trust W.K.W. with his choices because she’s nothing short of fantastic in this heartbreaking, romantic and melancholy journey.
The film drops the audience right in the middle of Jones’ realization that her boyfriend is cheating on her. She decides to leave the set of her boyfriend’s keys at the cafe where she found out – leaving them with its proprietor, Jude Law. As she wrestles with her broken heart and checks in to see if he’s picked them up, she and Law begin to develop an attraction for one another. Before that can play out, Jones moves on – first traveling to Memphis, then to Nevada – all to find herself along the way.
It’s the people and experiences along that road that shape the form of her life to come and being along for the ride was an absolute privilege. What made her undertaking so enjoyable was that as new people drift in and out of Jones’ life, they all begin as one thing, and then become another. The story does a great job of presenting the facade they all show and then tearing it down to reveal their true self underneath.
To bring that about, in addition to a good script, you need good actors and helping Jones and Law out are David Straithairn, Rachel Weisz and Natalie Portman. As fans of the site might know, I have a little bit of a thing for Natalie but don’t think that it’s clouding my judgment here (and forgive me Natalie) because she was the weakest link in the chain. While her character comes around to being an interesting and significant element of the story, at first blush I was completely thrown aback.
First, there’s the terrible hair and then there’s the annoying accent – which doesn’t seem to stick the whole time. I see why she was cast, as the latter stages of her character are a wonderful match for Portman’s acting skill set … it still felt a little out of place to me.
That wasn’t the case for Rachel Weisz or David Strathairn. Weisz does a wonderful job of playing both sides of the cheating wife character … at first, heartless but ultimately just as hurt, flawed and in pain as the husband she’s wronged. That husband being Mr. Strathairn, who I still contend has yet to give a bad performance in a film. Here again, he wrenches every last drop of emotion from his being and places it on-screen. Strathairn makes a rather complicated and unwieldy character seem so present and sincere. Simply amazing.
Then we come to the two leads – Jones and Law. Jude does a nice job of being the charismatic, sad puppy-dog that he tends to portray in so many films. If I had just 1/100th of his spark, I’d be getting an amazing amount of female attention (I don’t … so I don’t … let’s move on).
In regards to Norah Jones, this could be the start of an excellent acting career if she wanted it to be. From the first frame she occupies, a fantastic mix of heartbreak, hope and trust in other people just leaps off the screen. This is definitely an example of how it can pay off to let someone just do their thing, not being weighed down by process or past experience in the industry. I was already a fan of her music (she does contribute the opening song) but with this performance, I may be receiving a restraining order in the near future.
Additionally elevating the film to such high praise is that the tone of it is so wonderfully maintained not only by the acting but the directing, soundtrack and cinematography. Wong Kar Wei didn’t stick to static shots of people talking or make sure to frame the person talking in the scene right in the middle. He let the camera drift at times, even wandering behind obstructions in order to give the audience that intimate feeling that we were watching something private unfold right in front of us.
Then there’s the soundtrack which perfectly compliments the film. Aside from Jones’ contribution, Cat Power, Ry Cooder, Cassandra Wilson, Gustavo Santaolalla and Otis Redding all lend their talents to keep a bluesy, melancholy spirit to the production. I downloaded (and bought) the soundtrack the second I got home to help me write the review, still basking in the film’s mood.
Adding to those elements is a remarkably well chosen choice of color palette and grain quality. Cinematographer Darius Khondji used muddled and subdued tones throughout the film to give it all a very timeless feel, while also helping to maintain that emotional balance that the other parts of the film convey.
I readily admit that I’m a dope for these kinds of films. I have often fantasized about just picking up and moving to a new town, with no ties or preparations. The idea of traveling the country, taking in what comes to you, is just so romantic and appealing. While I have obligations and too weak a backbone to give it a shot, it only makes me appreciate cinema even more for giving me some small measure of that feeling … all within the safety of my local theater.
I’m sure it comes as no surprise that after waxing so poetic, “My Blueberry Nights” is getting a 5 out of 5. It’s one of those rare films that even has me wanting a happy, sappy ending (fluffy comedies notwithstanding). This will surely factor into the year’s best films for me and I can only count the days until the DVD can be mine, all mine.