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Norah Jones Is Off-Key In New Film

norah jones
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Lovely girl, Norah Jones. That sultry voice, armfuls of Grammys, a multiplatinum debut album that produced the ubiquitous hit "Don't Know Why."

But for all her charms and obvious talent, Jones seems outmatched in her first film, "My Blueberry Nights," opposite more seasoned actors Jude Law, David Strathairn, Rachel Weisz and Natalie Portman.

The camera certainly loves her: From the first moment you see her with her soulful brown eyes, pillowy lips and mass of dark hair, it's obvious why Wong Kar Wai would be intrigued enough by her to create a starring role with her in mind.


Photos: Spring 2008 Movies
But the Hong Kong director's first English-language film, another of his typically moody meditations on love, loss and loneliness, never feels like a comfortable fit for Jones, even though she's made her name with songs that touch on those very themes. You can almost hear her reading her lines; she seems childlike, stiff, unsure of herself.

Jones stars as Elizabeth, who has been saddened by a ruined romance. Night after night, she seeks solace at a New York cafe, where the owner, Jeremy (Law), feeds her blueberry pie, listens to her stories and becomes intrigued by her himself. Why blueberry, of all the pies in all the world? Because it's the one that's leftover, untouched, at the end of each day. She feels sorry for it - and he feels sorry for her - but there's an engaging sweetness to the unexpected friendship they forge.

A cross-country road trip takes her to Memphis, Tenn., where she waitresses and witnesses the unraveling of a marriage between alcoholic cop Arnie (Strathairn) and his brazenly adulterous, floozy wife Sue Lynne (Weisz). Here, Elizabeth goes by Lizzie, as she gains confidence and saves up some money working days at a diner and nights at a dive bar.


Photos: Grammy Highlights
Then one day, Lizzie picks up and moves on again - this time to a Nevada casino, where she calls herself Beth. There she befriends the sassy, in-over-her-head poker player Leslie, played by Portman in slinky, low-cut dresses and short, spiky blond hair. The all-grown-up act feels a bit forced on the pixyish Portman, as does her Southern accent, but at least there's a life and an unpredictability to this segment that was missing previously.

Wong whips out all his dreamy, draggy visual tricks along the way: the staccato slo-mo, shooting people at night through storefront windows so they're partly obscured by such words as "breads" and "cookies," the intense close-up of juicy blueberries and vanilla ice cream melting into each other (which is perhaps intended as an erotic suggestion, but instead resembles road kill).

Wong and co-writer Lawrence Block want us to believe that Elizabeth-Lizzie-Beth affects everyone she meets during her travels. It would be more accurate to say that she happens to be in the right place at the right time when pivotal moments occur in these people's lives. She's really more of a bystander and is, literally, in the film's purest and most emotionally honest moment: a long take in which Weisz tearfully explains the origin of her relationship with the much-older Strathairn.

For all its implied weightiness and melancholy, "My Blueberry Nights" is a confection that leaves you feeling empty.

"My Blueberry Nights," a Weinstein Co. release, is rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including violence, drinking and smoking. Running time: 90 minutes. Two stars out of four.

By Christy Lemire