Does Wong Kar-Wai’s world get lost in translation? So Cannes-goers in 2007 reckoned, arguing that the In The Mood For Love maker’s English-language debut seemed to have been blindsided by Americana visuals and Norah Jones. Had his magic deserted him?
A little, but Blueberry isn’t wholly flavourless. Wong-watchers will be at home from the opening note of love-stranded stasis, the favoured position of his romantically paralysed characters. His food-fixated Chungking Express is a kick-off point, too. NYC diner owner Jeremy (Jude Law) receives custom from the just-jilted Elizabeth (Jones); over blueberry pie, they slice into a small-hours friendship… until he makes a tentative advance and she hits the road, taking bar work, befriending a sassy gambler (Natalie Portman) and sending postcards to Jez en route.
Never mind the travelogue, though. Romantic repose is the predominant position here, with Jones’ dreamy physiognomy at its centre. Wong shoots her with such tender loving awe that her face becomes an exemplar of the Wong-patented profile, an emphasis to which the screen-debuting singer responds with restraint.
Oddly, it’s the stars who struggle. Law fusses too much and Portman is by the book with her brassy tics. When it comes to walking the Wong walk, Rachel Weisz’s slow-mo entrance falls several sashays short of Mood’s Maggie Cheung. It’s as if Wong’s plotting has unleashed a panic pandemic: without momentum, his stars seem stranded. Only John Sayles veteran David Strathairn shines, essaying a boozy cop with the stillness of the spurned. Otherwise, Blueberry plays like a romantic’s love-song-in-tableaux to Jones and America, a misty-eyed musical meander through heartache. Sure, it’s plot-slender, heavy on sickly homilies. But when the rhapsodic imagery centres on Jones, with the indie-soul of Cat Power’s ‘The Greatest’ threading through the film like ‘California Dreamin’’ in Chungking, Wong’s old tune occasionally finds its swoon.
Away from home, Wong is on far-from-vintage form. But he still speaks the seductive language of longing with tactile tenderness, and draws out a natural performance from Jones. Worth a look, if not quite one to fall for.