You take Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Rachel Weisz, David Strathairn, and a first-time acting role from Norah Jones. Seems like a fairly decent cast, right? Add in the fact that it’s the first true “American” film by Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai (he directed Chungking Express, which is well worth renting) and it sounds like a no-brainer. Can I get an amen?
Sadly, this time the recipe didn’t come up with a winner. You do get some great performances, and Norah Jones is admittedly pretty good in this, especially for a first-time actor. Jude Law is actually believable as a the owner of a small cafe in New York City, David Stratharn more than holds his own as a cop who is a likeable guy during the day, and a boozy despondent estranged husband by night. Rachel Weisz turns in a very short but well-acted role as his boozy (and busty) ex-wife who is now gallivanting around with someone who looks like they could have doubled for Brad Pitt in Thelma & Louise.
But the real star of this piece of Natalie Portman, who plays a sassy curly blonde with a bit of a gambling problem. Her Southern attitude, drawl, and low cleavage stand out in this mishmashed film that feels more like three short student films than it does a feature.
The film is initially set in New York City, where Jude Law tends to his tiny cafe. A despondent Norah Jones calls one night, then later appears, looking for her boyfriend. She finds out he’s been cheating on her, and inexplicably leaves a set of keys with Jude Law and tells him to give them to her boyfriend if she sees him. He adds them to a bowl full of other keys. Apparently, and this is never really explained, this happens often here.
Jones returns another night to find out if he’s picked up the keys (he hasn’t) and she and Law begin a tradition where she’ll come in each night, eat a slice of blueberry pie, and then go home. He tells her the story behind some of the other keys in the bowl, and we find out he has a set in there too. One night, she comes in extra troubled, gets drunk, eats most of an entire blueberry pie, and passes out. With vanilla ice cream drops on her lips. In an awkward slow-motion scene that has some of the frames removed so it looks like a bad webcam, Law leans over and either licks or kisses the ice cream off her face. Strange.
Anyhow, Jones decides to leave New York, heads cross-country by bus and end up in Memphis where she’s working as a waitress by day and a server in a bar by night to make ends meet and save up for a car. There’s is where “Part Two” of the film begins. One night she serves a drunk off his ass David Strathairn at the bar, and the next morning he appears in full police uniform at her diner. Turns out he’s been getting drunk ever since his wife left him, and denies the fact that they’re broken up. This leads to some confrontations with his sultry wife (Weisz) and he ends up driving his car into a lamppost and dying. Weisz pays his final bar tab and leaves town for good as Jones watches from a window, wanting a car of her own.
Next, Jones buses to Arizona and begins working at a casino as a cocktail girl, which is where she meets Natalie Portman. Portman’s in the middle of a big Texas Hold ‘Em game in the back of a casino, although she goes bust (and bustier). She offers a deal to Jones, who she finds out is saving for a car: “stake me your $2200 and I’ll give you 30% of my winnings, and if I lose you can have my car.” Which just happens to be a brand-new Jaguar convertible. Jones eventually accepts, Portman busts again, and Jones agress to drive Portman to Vegas before they take off in her new car.
Cut to Vegas, where Portman has some significant bad news: her estranged father has passed away. She tells Jones she can’t take the car, because it’s the last thing she took from her father, but then she reveals that she’s been lying to her… she won that jackpot after all. So she gives her some money, and she uses it to buy a beatup old car. So Jones heads west, back to New York.
It’s been about a year since the events at the beginning of the movie, and Jones has been writing postcards and letters to Jude Law back in NYC, but never with a return address. He’s been desperately trying to get in touch with her, but with no success. She comes back, eats a ton of pie, passes out with vanilla ice cream on her lips again, he kisses it off, and this time she wakes up and they make out. The end.
The trouble is by the time Jones gets back to NYC, you don’t really care anymore. All the build up has been lost at each stop along Jones’ trip, and the letters she keeps sending to Jude Law just fall flat. Then there’s the addition of the whole “pie” device, which feels a bit tired after Waitress, and some truly strange extreme closeup shots of vanilla ice cream melting/dripping into pies. Is there supposed to be some sort of sexual symbology here?
Anyhow, I’m a huge Wong Kar-Wai film, but this movie left me cold and alone in the dark, without even a piece of pastry to keep me company.