Fans of the acclaimed Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai (“In the Mood for Love,” “2046,” “Chung King Express”) have awaited his latest, “My Blueberry Nights,” with what you might call reserved curiosity. It is his English-language debut, and jazz singer Norah Jones is making her acting debut in the lead role — two factors that could spell disaster. Happily, the result is a pleasant and sugary romantic dramedy, not as packed with emotional weight as Wong’s best-loved films, but perfectly serviceable.
Jones plays Elizabeth, a young woman who one night stumbles into a New York diner run by Jeremy (Jude Law). At first the two are the film’s only characters, and all of their scenes are set at night, after the diner has closed. In the dreamy world of the film (written by Wong and Lawrence Block), Jeremy’s diner is a place where broken-up couples can leave their apartment keys for ex-lovers to pick up. He has a jar full of keys, and he knows the stories behind every failed romance that they represent.
Then Elizabeth leaves on a cross-country trip of self-discovery, taking waitress jobs first in Memphis and then in Nevada. In Memphis she befriends an alcoholic cop named Arnie (David Strathairn), who is devastated over a recent breakup with Sue Lynne (Rachel Weisz). In Nevada she meets Leslie (Natalie Portman), a gambler with trust issues.
Through their poor examples and emotional misfortunes, these characters all teach Elizabeth a few things about love. Strathairn, Weisz, and Portman are far better performers than Jones (who is affable but not particularly skilled as an actress), and they each have a monologue or two in which to make their mark. There’s a terrifically poignant moment when Elizabeth says to the drunken Arnie, “I know it’s none of my business, but have you ever thought about cutting back?” Arnie replies incredulously, “Have I thought about it?” He goes on to explain, heartbreakingly, how often he has “thought” about it.
Plotwise, the film isn’t much. But Wong has a poet’s touch, giving everything a gauzy, dreamlike feel; his fondness for reds and greens and for setting most of the film in the ethereal nighttime hours adds to the romance of it. It’s sweet and mostly satisfying, like a silky dessert at the end of a relaxed meal.
B (1 hr., 30 min.; )