Don’t know why this film’s so bland

Norah Jones can’t save Wong Kar-wai’s English-language debut

Banal and inelegant much of the dialogue in the English-language debut by Wong Kar-wai is bad enough for anglophone admirers of the director’s Hong Kong films to wonder if they were better off not knowing how his characters’ expressions of love and regret sounded in Cantonese. Surely Days of Being Wild Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love all remain masterpieces of romantic languor in any language right? Equally baffling is why Wong’s My Blueberry Nights co-writer American crime novelist Lawrence Block doesn’t seem to have done much to compensate for the director’s tin ear for English. Maybe he too has a weakness for pie metaphors.

In any case My Blueberry Nights hardly marks a triumph for Wong one of the most exciting filmmakers of the last two decades. Though tightened considerably since its debut at Cannes last year this vehicle for singer turned actress Norah Jones — playing a lovelorn lass who heals her broken heart with a road trip — isn’t any more substantial or satisfying. Wispy pretty but terminally vague the movie could be blown to bits by a strong gust of wind.

That said there’s still much in My Blueberry Nights worth swooning over its visual splendour being the most striking. Like so many foreign filmmakers before him Wong can’t resist the all-American impulse to head out on the highway and discover for himself just how much of the country looks like an Edward Hopper painting. Wong and cinematographer Darius Khondji capture the allure of the distinctly retro array of diners and bars where most scenes take place and just as fellow traveller Wim Wenders did in Paris Texas Wong adds texture to his dreamy vision of America with a moody score from Ry Cooder.

Jones also displays some charm as our heroine though other cast members fare better than she does with the dodgy material they’re given. Elizabeth (Jones) begins her odyssey in a New York café where she befriends café owner Jeremy (Jude Law) over late-night plates of pie. As Jeremy pines for her back in N.Y.C. Elizabeth travels west. On the way she encounters a viciously acrimonious couple in Memphis (played by David Strathairn and Rachel Weisz) and a gambler in Vegas (Natalie Portman with an Annie Oakley accent). Their stories counterpoint her own though in a manner that seems trite and half-baked relative to Wong’s past portmanteaus.

Another chanteuse Chan “Cat Power” Marshall shows up as Jeremy’s ex-lover making more of an impression in her few moments here than the wan Jones is able to in the entire film. Scenes like that one prove the director’s forte for illuminating the dark corners of the human heart. With its excessive use of slo-mo weak script and less-cool-than-usual musical choices (Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” will forever belong to Pretty in Pink) though My Blueberry Nights doesn’t so much feel like a Wong Kar-wai movie as an impression by a variably talented UCLA film student. Fans can only hope that the director’s tourist visa has expired.