Though I once had a Wong Kar Wai poster in my bedroom, I hadn't seen one of his movies till this weekend.
The poster, along with some stuffed kitties, were part of my roommates' not-so-elaborate ruse to temporarily convince their landlord I was a girl. Much like my youth and my faith in humanity, the logic of this plan has escaped me -- it had something to do with the fact I was moving my stuff in and then spending the rest of the month upstate, and while it would be OK for this ghostly occupant to be a career-minded girl living a few days with her friends before moving to her new place, it would decidedly not be OK if the room were being used by a property-values-crushing sleazebag who just didn't want to pay rent before he was actually living there.
A couple weeks later, the fake me moved out and the real me moved in. Having no decorations of my own, the Kar Wai poster stayed up. (As for the stuffed kitties, I told my roommates they were stolen. A lie as hilarious as it was bold: as if I'd ever let a stranger lay a finger on Mr. Whiskers.)
Ever since then, Kar Wai's movies have been linked in my mind with inexplicable women's interests, like heirloom tomatoes and world peace. The title of his latest, My Blueberry Nights, did not stand ready to dispel that illusion, but once you're used to being an adult male who regularly sees children's movies by himself, seeing a potential chick flick by your lonesome doesn't even register on the embarrassment scale.
Norah Jones' boyfriend has left her. In a state of mild shock, she goes looking for him at his regular haunts, among them Jude Law's cafe. Law's still dazed from the woman who left him, and readily lends Jones a sympathetic ear.
Before their relationship can progress beyond commiseration over beer and pie, Jones leaves New York. Her plans aren't any deeper than getting away from her ex and saving up to buy a car, and as she moves around the country, she seems to gravitate to other broken people, among them alcoholic cop David Strathairn and brash gambler Natalie Portman. In strange ways, watching these people helps Jones begin to put herself back together.
My Blueberry Nights is something of a road movie, and like most road movies, it's not too cohesive, especially in its third act. Other than Jones' platonic letters to Law, there's not much tying it together beyond a deep, hollowed-out feeling of yearning -- now don't rush out to the theater all at once -- which Kar Wai and his talented cast explore with minimal melodrama.
Yet that sense of loss and how its victims handle it is treated so well you almost don't need some fancypants linear plot. We're not talking about moony, romantic heartbreak, either; we're talking the kind where Strathairn goes so nuts at the sight of his ex's new man that he breaks a bottle in the man's face. Good times.
This means it's also blessedly free of punishingly whimsical schmalz like setting up your living room on your boyfriend's lawn or couples bonding over a shared love of bands so indie their own lead singers haven't heard of them. My Blueberry Nights' characters are a little too busy with suicide, felonious assault and grifting to find the time to outcharm each other. Besides, in their relationships, the charm died a good long time ago.
Kar Wai's sympathy for these desperate people keeps the movie's emotional level working long after the story's drifted into "and then this happened" territory. Told in a quiet, numb style that mirrors Jones' depression, My Blueberry Nights may be a little too slow and disconnected to work for everyone, and there are times when the dialogue labors. You'll feel what the characters are going through, though, and in some ways, that's what the movies are for.