Wednesday, May 7, 2008

My Blueberry Ni--oh, forget about it

You have two more evenings to see Wong Kar Wai's My Blueberry Nights at the Cable Car. But if you can just hold out long enough, it'll go away and you'll miss it; Canvas, starring Joe Pantoliano and Marcia Gay Harden, starts on Friday. I had never heard of Canvas before checking out Cable Car's website and I can't quite put a face to either of its two stars' names, but I'm sure that as a statement on the human condition and as the product of actual vision and discernible effort, it represents a significant improvement over the film currently gracing Cable Car's screen. (At least at 9:00--the 7:00 show, Under the Same Moon, looks touching and sincere.) I'm not even sure I can justify a review of Blueberry Nights: it's a garish and cheap-looking movie, with garish and cheap performances and a story so lazily sketched that calling it cheap would be doubling its value. It's not an ode to loneliness: loneliness has weight; it's not a song of America: in Blueberry Nights, there is no there anywhere; it's not a meditation on the passing of time and space: without any real ache or change, we don't believe that anything has happened. Maybe the film's strangeness--its weird inhumanity and its seemingly arbitrary technique--is the traumatic result of the many cuts made after its indifferent debut at Cannes. If so, it would seem these cuts were not simply cosmetic but extirpative: something vital was removed in the process. It's easier to believe that the movie was made without a heart, or wherever conscience and sympathy originate, in the first place.

Norah Jones plays Elizabeth, who discovers through café-owner Jeremy (Jude Law) that her boyfriend has been cheating on her. She decides she has to get away--New York City being famous for its suffocating intimacy--and ends up working at a bar in Memphis, Tennessee. We are told, at least, that it is Memphis; neither the accents of its alcoholic policeman and his ex-wife (David Strathiarn and Rachael Weisz), nor the blurry outside shots by cinematographer Darius Khondji, suggest as much. She leaves Memphis--for no other reason than that the movie makes her--and meets a cocky gambler (Natalie Portman) in a small casino town in Texas. They drive to Las Vegas together, and then Elizabeth ends up driving all--the--way--back--to--New--York--City. And, still, there's Jeremy, the pie-baking Penelope, staying open late, turning away all advances, and saving a plate and a fork for the prodigal pastry-eater.

The movie sounds trivial because it is. It has no agenda or interests, no eloquence or insight. It respects neither the particular natures of its characters, nor the generalizable myths of travel and redemption in the American West.
My Blueberry Nights suggests no hierarchy of emotions or values, so the story is not so much Picaresque as clumsily democratic: all plots and philosophies are created equal. There's no menace, and there's no promise of transcendence. Elizabeth, we learn, discovers who she is during the course of her travels, but Wong Kar Wai doesn't trust her enough to truly test her: she is too brittle a creation, too feeble a character, to sustain a real existential confrontation. When she returns to New York City, she informs Jeremy that she's changed. And though we've been with her through most of her adventure, it comes as news to us as well.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

5-08-08. Elizabeth isn't brittle; she's vaporous. When confronted by the world's hardness she disperses and immediately reassembles. The point, I guess, is that her boyfriend's betrayal has reduced her to spectral transparency: having defined herself through him, she disappears when he does. But the film's plot is so indiscriminate, its script so aphoristic, its acting so gestural, and its cinematography so vitiating, that we simply don't care. We can't wait to return to the world we know--complex, manic, and colorful.

1 comment:

V. said...

Joey Pants was the pimp in Risky Business and the sell out in the Matrix. Marica Gay Harden was in Pollock. Both are good actors.