Cast: Norah Jones, Jude Law
Rachel Weisz, Natalie Portman, David Strathairn
At first glance Wong Kar Wai's first English feature film seems to be like all his others.
Dreamy atmospheric mood? Check.
Conventional situations approached in unconventional methods? Check.
Sexy, heartfelt performances from his cast? Check.
Flawless musical taste and a fixation with one particular song? Check.
Why then is the film so lacking in something? A purpose perhaps or an emotional truth to support its ethereal themes.
The answers must have gotten lost in translation and what we get is the story of Elizabeth (Jones) a New Yorker with a broken heart who befriends Jeremy (Law) a café owner with whom she finds company, trust and all the blueberry pie she can eat.
It's obvious that they like each other, but in the blink of an eye we find Elizabeth unexplainably living in Memphis and working as a waitress, while sending postcards to Jeremy who has no idea why she left.
Apparently neither does she and much less do we.
She goes across the country meeting people only to realize what she needed was always in front of her. This story has been told a million times, one of the best renditions occurs in the land of Oz, which is why the charm should lie in the anecdotical appeal this should have on Elizabeth's life.
What we get is a series of quirky characters, beautifully acted, but with not much to say or add to the plot.
Portman is particularly good as a feisty gambler with a sad family history who makes the film glow with life despite an awful hairdo.
Weisz is also affecting, but her Southerner comes off looking more femme fatale than grieving victim playing the wife of an alcoholic policeman (Strathairn).
Law has never been so charming and sweet and Chan Marshall from Cat Power gets a small cameo which she infuses with melancholy and regret.
But most of the film rests on Jones' debut performance and she moves through the film in a manner reminsicent of her approach to music: with a lethargic seductiveness that can immediately captivate or irritate you.
Her unusual beauty is bewitching (and curiously the other women in the cast seem to have her same type) but she lets Elizabeth fade too much within the stories of the other people.
She is easily overacted by most of the ensemble, some of her scenes with Portman are cringe worthy, but if you can notice this so easily you have to ask yourself why did Kar Wai choose her as his heroine.
Her ability to disappear might make a point within itself, because maybe the story isn't even supposed to be about her and more about the world which she hadn't seen.
But if he turns Elizabeth into a McGuffin what is the point of having her at all?
The same can be said for the settings. New York City becomes a, beautifully shot, café with painted letters, neon signs and fluorescent pastries.
Memphis becomes a red country bar and Las Vegas is a series of slot machines and poker tables with a view of the desert now and then.
If the places were not important either, why the hell travel then? Even more important why should we want to come along for the ride?
The film might try to explain itself when it argues that "sometimes it's better off not knowing and other times there's no reason to be found".
But it will probably have lost you long before.