Wong Kar-Wai’s preferred mode is recapitulation: take that song, that scene, that shot, that line, and play it again, tease it, tease us, till it yields satisfaction. The technique resonates profoundly with such irreducible habits of mind as routine, memory and, more problematically, solipsism. For just as Wong’s beautiful dreamers obsess over intimate concerns to the exclusion of all else, his inwardness is reaping diminishing returns.
His last feature, ‘2046’, gorgeously recapitulated his career to date; and his first English language film, ‘My Blueberry Nights’ hints at the fresh start his characters ultimately earn. As ‘Happy Together’ showed, however, it’s easier to change one’s scenery than one’s spots.
The singer Norah Jones plays jilted lover Elizabeth, who hangs out after hours with a Manhattan diner manager (Jude Law) before heading south. As a Tennessee barmaid, she meets a boozy cop (David Strathairn) and the wife he can’t let go (Rachel Weisz); working in an Arizona casino, she gets mixed up with gambling gal Natalie Portman.‘My Blueberry Nights’ shows an outsider’s eye for kitsch Americana, and is shot, cut and designed with the exquisite wooziness of any WKW project.
But most of its tropes and motifs are transplanted from Hong Kong, its chamber-piece exchanges neglecting any real engagement with US life. Nor are these exchanges always effective: Jones struggles to make Elizabeth’s passivity compelling, while Law’s Manc accent grates, as do bits of cutesy business (keys, CCTV tapes, his ’n’ hers nosebleeds). There’s always pleasure in seeing Wong play it again; this time, though, less satisfaction.