My Blueberry Nights : Wong Kar Wai Hearts America

Wong Kar Wai called Chungking Express, his fourth film but first international calling card, “a road movie of the heart.” My Blueberry Nights, his first film in English, has been called an actual road movie, but it’s more of a destination film with three settings: East goes West when Elizabeth (Norah Jones) ditches New York with a broken heart and lights out for Memphis and the gambling hub of Ely, Nevada. Known as “Lizzie” in Memphis and “Beth” in Nevada, the shell-shocked Elizabeth has transformative interactions with the locals—Arnie (David Strathairn) and his estranged wife Sue Lynne (Rachel Weisz) in Memphis, Natalie Portman’s troubled poker babe in Nevada—then returns to New York healed and with a great new hat. But the lovelorn cops in Chungking traverse a greater distance within the perimeter of the Midnight Express deli and the Chung-king House hotel than Wong manages with all of Route 50 here. The disappointment in this case doesn’t have much to do with Wong doing America—he’s been doing America for years, even in Chinese—but with Wong seemingly doing Wong, and not up to his own standard.