My Blueberry Nights

My Blueberry Nights My Blueberry Nights
Jude Law, Norah Jones

1.5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson

Nora Jones can't sing. In "Blueberry Nights" she proves she can't act either. Her performance is so stiff, so alarmingly flatlined that coroners must've trailed behind her on the set to check her for a pulse.

Writer/director Wong Ker Wai deserves a pie in the face for casting a novocained novice in the lead. He also signed up an impressive list of acting luminaries to support singer-songwriter (not actor) Norah Jones; including stars: Jude Law, David Straitharn, Rachel Wiesz, Frankie Faison and Natalie Portman. But Jones' ineptitude is contagious. Steely screen hunk Jude Law is hapless as Jeremy, the owner of a late night Manhattan diner that specializes in good food and few customers. His puppy dog performance is a mix of Leslie Howard at his most fey and the Galloping Gourmet. The usually reliable Portman deserves a booberry for her antediluvian assessment of an overblown trailer park trashette who has absolutely no sensible connection to the very reserved character played by Jones. Fortunately, the midpoint of the film focuses on Straitharn, Weisz and Faison, who remind us that good actors can overcome a padded, hackneyed script. Skip to their section and avoid the agita the rest of "Blueberry Nights" induces.

Ker Wai fashioned a full-length script from a short story he'd written about a jilted woman who pours her heart out to the owner of a diner who's oblivious to his infatuation with her. Jeremy a transplanted Brit from Manchester (Law, acting like a man who can't get date, yeah that's believable), is the proprietor of the diner where Elizabeth (Novocain Jones) parks her tookus one night to prattle on about how she's been wronged by her cheating boyfriend. Instead of drinking her troubles away (well, she does that too), Elizabeth downs plates of blueberry pie with ice cream. Why blueberry? Because Elizabeth feels as neglected as Jeremy's blueberry pie.

Elizabeth leaves Manhattan in an attempt to forget her pain, traveling to Memphis. Why Memphis? I don't know, except Wai has an Elvis fixation. Elizabeth takes on two jobs to save up money for a car, working in a caf' during the day (get the irony?) and at a small local bar at night run by Travis (Frankie Faison, who's comfortable playing the gruff bar owner with a philosopher's heart.) She meets Arnie, a broken, pathetic red-eyed drunk by night and a likeable policeman by day (David Straitharn, who deserves an Oscar just for getting through his scenes with the mummified Jones). Arnie spends his nights bent over the bar, drinking until he can barely see, because his wife, Sue Lynn (hubba hubba Rachel Weisz giving her best ever performance) is tramping it up with the local stud. He takes his anger out on the rural Romeo, introducing a bottle to his skull, before taking some hearty swings at him with a pool stick and line dancing on his face. Instead of bringing Sue Lynn back to him, Arnie's desperate act drives her further away. Angry and embarrassed Arnie confronts her:

Sue Lynn: You're not my husband anymore. You've got to let me go!
(She slaps him repeatedly. He pulls a gun.)
Arnie: I swear if you walk out of here, I'll kill you.
Sue Lynn: Then what? IT'S OVER!

Arnie's anger gives way to blubbering devotion and he lowers the gun. That night he leaves the bar more bleary-eyed and pixilated than before. Crashing his truck into a telephone pole, he leaves everyone wondering if his broken heart drove him to kill himself.

Another customer in the caf' is Leslie (a miscast Natalie Portman), a cocky, carefree gambler with the fashion sense of Madam (the puppet, although she looks and acts like that kind of a madam too). Leslie gets cleaned out in a showdown with a baby-faced rival and asks Elizabeth if she can borrow the money she's saved to get back in the game. Leslie promises that if she loses she'll give Elizabeth her new Jaguar. Leslie returns downcast, and asks Elizabeth to drive her to Las Vegas so she can hit her father up for more money. Leslie gets a phone call that she asks Elizabeth to answer, telling Leslie that her father is dying in a hospital. She refuses to believe the news, thinking her father is trying to trick her into seeing him. When Elizabeth insists they check, she's told Leslie?s father is dead. Leslie wants to keep the car, which she admits she stole from her father. (Guess it's an inheritance thing.) Leslie also confesses that she lied to Elizabeth, that she?d won her last bet and had tricked Elizabeth into coming with her because she didn't want to face her journey back home alone. She pays back Elizabeth with interest and Lizzie buys a car and drives back to New York where you can bet there's some blueberry pie waiting for her.

David Straitharn has never given a bad performance in any movie I've ever seen him in. He was superb as pitcher Eddie Ciccote in "Eight Men Out," a hard-working Chicago White Sox hurler who helped throw the 1919 World Series because he felt he was being underpaid. I've seen plenty of crushed men and women who drink themselves legless in the hope of forgetting a doomed relationship. Straitharn skillfully depicts a broken barfly's slurred speech, watery eyes and hangdog expression without being maudlin or borderline comedic. You can identify with Arnie even if you're a tea totaler, because he?s the guy in every bar you see with a hidden past who keeps to himself, sadly looking straight ahead as he embalms himself night after night. Frankie Faison doesn't get much screen time as Travis, but the venerable character actor makes it clear he understands Arnie's self-torture. He wants Arnie to move on, and he has no love or respect for Sue Lynn. As Sue Lynn, Weisz is dead-on as a sensual, slinky, Southern slut who's seemingly over Arnie's smothering obsession with her. Weisz's teary assessment of their marriage and her true feelings for Arnie produces the movie?s most moving scene: "He was so crazy about me I couldn't breathe. So we tried drinking our way back into love and it never made sense in the morning. So I ran, and every time I came back he was here and he was still crazy about me. I just wanted him to let go of me, and now that he has, it hurts more than anything else in the whole world."

Natalie Portman's dialogue says tough cookie, but her trumped up, loud mannerisms can't hide the fact that she doesn't have a clue as to how to act like the fast-talking card sharp Leslie is supposed to be, so she comes off as a delinquent version of Peter Pan.
As for Jones, I'll say it again. She puts the boo in booberry nights.

Look for another singer, 'Cat Power' (Charlyn Chan Marshall) in a cameo as Law's ex-girlfriend Katia, the Russian woman who broke his heart (yeah, right). Cat's lack of even a remote Slavic accent notwithstanding, she's ten times the actress Jones is and she can't act either. Cat purrs a bit with Law as the two share sly glances and memories. As the scene progresses Marshall begins to pose rather than act, as if she's becoming self-conscious. Her performance crashes faster than Toonces the Cat driving a car. To summarize Charlyn Marshall's performance, I'll paraphrase the late James Doohan, Scotty on Star Trek: Cat, you haven't got the power.

Cat fares better on the soundtrack, which thankfully uses two of her stronger tunes ("Living Proof" and "The Greatest") to one of Jones weakest, ("The Story"). (Dir) not so subtly indicates shifts in the plot or the introduction of new characters by changing the background music. Jones' segment with Law gets "The Greatest;" Arnie's theme song is Otis Redding's "Try A Little Tenderness;" Sue Lynn gets Ruth Brown's bloozy "Looking Back," and Cat Power makes her appearance after Cassandra Wilson's butt-clenching version of Neil Young's "Harvest Moon." Advantage, Otis.

An Extra Slice of Booberry

The blueberry's on special when you check out the extras. If the film itself had as much depth as the extras, Norah Jones might be preparing for her next screen role? NAH. "Blueberry Nights" extras include the theatrical trailer (do not view prior to or after eating), still galleries, a Q & A with director Wai and a "Making of Blueberry Nights" featurette. Wai's interview was filmed at the Museum of Moving Image with Chief Curator David Schwartz politely softballing questions. Wai justifies his choice of Jones by saying it?s not uncommon for actresses in Hong Kong to also be singers. Well there's two problems with that logic, Mr. Wai -- we ain't in Hong Kong, and since Madonna blazed a trail across the screen there haven't been that many singers who've distinguished themselves on the screen.

"The Making of" gives the actors a chance to expound on their characters. Law's performance may have been profane, but it wasn't from his lack of familiarity with his character: "Jeremy is sort of a collection of promises and broken dreams. He's always keeping himself busy, always smiling. He avoids things by running."

Also revealed in the extras is the reason Rachel Weisz's performance is so intense (according to Wai).

There have been a number of singers who were able to parlay their successful recording careers into equally profitable turns in movies -- Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, and Bobby Darin to name a few. But for every Frank Sinatra, Julie Andrews, or Mark Wahlberg there's a Mariah Carey, Bette Midler, or Norah Jones. But wait, Jones can?t do either, and ultimately, it's her lack screen of screen presence that cooks "Blueberry Nights."



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