Wong Kar Wai has been called the world's most romantic filmmaker, and with good reason. His films CHUNGKING EXPRESS, IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, and 2046 express the longing and desire of being in love while being wrapped up in stories and characters that feel fresh, exciting and new. They are lush films that fill their audience with sumptuous visions and delights. With his English-language debut, MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS, he delivers a lesser film, a sweet ode, not entirely unlike the blueberry pies from which the film takes its namesake.

This is not to say that the film is any less sumptuous in any respect, but that the impact is a much lighter one, and is easily resolved without too much heavy digestion afterward. This worked fine for me, as it was what I wanted at the time, as opposed to a less airy film. Sometimes you want the full meal, and sometimes you just want coffee and dessert, right?

MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS is essentially a road movie, though a lot of the conventions of the genre are largely missing, like most of the scenes that tend to take place traveling to and from places. It starts in New York City, where cafe owner Jeremy receives a phone call inquiring about a customer. Before long, Elizabeth shows up with a set of keys and a message for her boyfriend. We learn it was her on the phone, and that she is in the area because he lives nearby. Her boyfriend is cheating on her, and she is feeling rejected. In one of my favorite "meet-cutes" in a long time, they have the following exchange about the pie that no one ever eats:

Jeremy: Hmm. It's like these pies and cakes. At the end of every night, the cheesecake and the apple pie are always completely gone. The peach cobbler and the chocolate mousse cake are nearly finished... but there's always a whole blueberry pie left untouched.
Elizabeth: So what's wrong with the Blueberry Pie?
Jeremy: There's nothing wrong with the Blueberry Pie, just people make other choices. You can't blame the Blueberry Pie, it's just... no one wants it.
Elizabeth: Wait! I want a piece.

Before long, Elizabeth is visiting the cafe regularly to talk to Jeremy and eat the pie that is always left at the end of the night. There is no real mystery about who is going to end up with who here, even though Elizabeth does take the keys back and decide to try it out one last time with her boyfriend, and even though Jeremy's ex-girlfriend pops in at one point only to check on the cafe and friend she left behind all that time ago.

One night, after seeing her boyfriend with another woman in his apartment window, Elizabeth leaves town and heads west. The film picks up in Memphis, where she, now going by Liz is working days in a diner and nights in a bar, and where she meets Arnie Copeland, an alcoholic police officer separated from his wife Sue Lynne. Arnie and Sue Lynne enter Liz's world slowly, and she witnesses their destructive behavior while attempting to figure out her own self. It's clear to her that Arnie and Sue Lynne care about one another, but that they have fallen out of love; at no time more evident than when she smacks him after he beats up her boyfriend and he threatens to kill her with his pistol if she walks out the door.

Again we jump forward to Nevada, where Elizabeth has taken up another job waiting tables, this time at a small-time hotel and casino outside of Vegas. There she meets Leslie, a gambler who is never playing even. Out of money and out of a high stakes poker game, Leslie gets Elizabeth to finance her re-entry into play, with her car as leverage. After losing the money again, the car is Elizabeth's, but she must take Leslie to Vegas first, though she doesn't seem to want to go there, as we learn later, due to her estrangement from her father.

After these vignettes about relationships and the nature of love, Wong Kar Wai brings us and Elizabeth back to New York, where she reunites with Jeremy and everything works out beautiful and melt-y, just like the slice of blueberry pie with ice cream that keeps popping up in extreme close-up. It may be a hammy metaphor for love, but its a delicious looking one, and one that is perfect at describing the warmth that comes from the emotion.

The film is not perfect, but the perfomances are, with Norah Jones making her debut as Elizabeth, and veterans Jude Law, Natalie Portman, David Strathairn, and Rachel Weisz all turning in top-notch work. The cinematography, also wonderful and impressionistic (as always) is perfect, with enough gloss and sheen that the cafe Jeremy owns is filled with lush blues and pinks and reds, usually with a hint of neon from the signs that adorn its windows. MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS is a wonderful little film about learning life's lessons, and how even when you journey far from home, sometimes the thing you want the most, and the person you want to be, is right under your nose.

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