Elizabeth (Norah Jones) calls up a Russian diner in New York City run by Englishman Jeremy (Jude Law) and asks if her boyfriend has been in there tonight. He doesn't know, but says if she tells him what he usually has to eat he might recall the man, so soon Elizabeth walks into the establishment and start quizzing him, though what he finally remembers is not really what she wanted to hear. Turns out her boyfriend was in there with another woman, and she is crestfallen, though on the bright side she has made a new friend in Jeremy as they get to chatting the night away...
For his English language feature debut, cult director Wong Kar Wai opted to go to America, though this was not an American film, which explains the dreamy eyed view of the country that he conjured up. That was not enough for many, however, and those who had enjoyed his Hong Kong movies were not so impressed with his choices here, the main problem being that he often worked in a stylised fashion which when translated into English made the characters appear affected, and the whole of the production around them look just as artificial.
Some responded to this thanks to Darius Khondji's expert cinematography, so as often with this director's work at least the visuals were ravishing, except they might have been even more appealing if they hadn't insisted on rendering shots with that juddery slow motion much seen in moody pop videos or online videos on a bad connection. Once you noticed it, it became very distracting as you would likely prefer the more artful images that were less blurry and stuttery. But that was not what the main bone of contention was for the film's critics, as garnering most of the publicity was the screen debut of singer Norah Jones.
It's true that in her first scenes you wonder what Wong saw in her, but she improved as the story went along, growing into her role and by the end of it approaching a respectable perfrormance. Law for some reason took to adopting a Manchester accent, but was decent enough as the man who we can tell from the start would be right for Elizabeth, if only she didn't have to take off and "find herself" throughout the rest of the land over the course of the following year. This does offer up a road movie for the audience's delictation, which carries on much as you'd expect, with Elizabeth sending postcards to Jeremy as she gets jobs in diners and bars and meets all sorts of interesting guest stars delighted to be in a Wong Kar Wai movie.
First up is David Strathairn, who plays a lovelorn, alcoholic cop drowning his sorrows every night and we find out why when his estranged wife (Rachel Weisz) arrives to inadvertantly make him feel worse. She is a brittle sort, with no time for her ex now, which winds up in tragedy that doesn't have enough space to work up the necessary emotional weight, and the subplot collapses into cliché, which is what the rest of this could be accused of. Next is Natalie Portman, miscast as a world-weary gambler (she even calls Elizabeth "Toots"!) who bets her car to our heroine, loses, and then persuades her to accompany her to Las Vegas in said vehicle as they each learn the meaning and value of trust. Again, Portman is reduced to broad strokes when the script needed more subtlety, whereupon it ends with what you thought would happen the moment Elizabeth walked into Jeremy's diner. My Blueberry Nights (the two leads bond over blueberry pie) was nice enough, but rather unformed when it could have been poignant. Music by Ry Cooder.