You can add Norah Jones to the list of musicians with crappy film debuts
Image Courtesy of IMPawards.com
Director: Wong Kar Wai
Notable Cast: Norah Jones, Natalie Portman, Jude Law, David Strathairn
Ever since Elvis Presley, it seems, every successful musician dabbles with acting. Some are successful and make a seamless transition, like Mos Def and Mark Wahlberg. Others fail spectacularly, most famously Mariah Carey and her film debut in Glitter or Prince’s spectacularly bad Purple Rain. Most end up not being able to carry their musical persona on screen and wind up in the same place where they started. You can almost pencil in Norah Jones for that same route that many an artist has taken with her cinematic debut in My Blueberry Nights. At least she had the sense to keep her debut to a limited release, as opposed to a high profile bomb like Get Rich or Die Tryin’.
Jones stars as Elizabeth, a woman down on her luck and reeling from a breakup. She randomly wanders into a café owned and operated by Jeremy (Jude Law), a Brit who’s fond of baking and collecting keys from lost breakups. He and Elizabeth have a connection, a bond formed by eating Blueberry pie leftover from the day’s cooking. Leaving her comfortable life to assume odd jobs across the country, she encounters some interesting people that help shape her life. In Memphis, she works two jobs and meets Arnie (David Strathairn), an alcoholic police officer who’s wife Sue (Rachel Weisz) has just left him. Traveling to Las Vegas, she encounters a professional poker player (Natalie Portman) who needs a little bit of luck. It’s a unique look at the tale of a woman needing to find herself, but just because Wong Kar Wai has a different visual style doesn’t make it compelling material. If anything, Wai’s erratic visual style and incessant use of slow motion effects draws distinct attention to the lack of a solid story or compelling characters.
Wai uses so many visuals, slow motion effects and long shots of scenery that the film seems more of an advertisement for New York, Memphis and Las Vegas than it does an actual film. Wai seems so devoted to using visuals that he forgets to tell a coherent, cogent story. Every shot seems more geared to seeing what he can do with it as opposed to what he’s using it to say. This is a film of discombobulated statements that somehow translate to a story as opposed to a smooth moving film. Wai is trying to cover for weak characters and a weaker script by being flashy with the camera. It doesn’t work.
The film has a definite story arc that’s easy to follow, but there’s nothing there to care about. We’re introduced to Elizabeth and Jeremy but not given anything to really make us want to care about them, or anyone else for the matter. The characters are one dimensional and developed minimally; Wai is counting on his actors to carry the film and make us care, rather than give us anything to really want to care about. It works somewhat because Wai has a tremendous cast; when you have an Oscar winner and two recent nominees in your lineup its hard to screw it up but Wai nearly does. With so much needless camerawork done, Wai nearly manages to make two highly talented actors (and Natalie Portman) boring.
It’s not as if Norah Jones is charismatic or talented enough to carry the film. She’s got presence and has all the tools to be a top actress in the future; right now she’s another musician dabbling in movies. She stands out like an amateur would amongst professionals; Jones doesn’t ruin or cause major problems for the film, but she’s not an asset to it either. She’s not a weight or an anchor, but her inexperience is clear throughout the film.
My Blueberry Nights is a low profile film from a low-profile director for a reason. Wong Kar Wai gives a weak debut for American audiences.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):