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Originally published Friday, April 18, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

"My Blueberry Nights" stars Norah Jones in her acting debut

"My Blueberry Nights" stars Norah Jones, Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Rachel Weisz and David Strathairn.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

"My Blueberry Nights," with Jude Law, Norah Jones, Natalie Portman, Rachel Weisz, David Strathairn. Directed by Wong Kar Wai, from a screenplay by Wong and Lawrence Block. 111 minutes. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including violence, drinking and smoking. Several theaters.

Wong Kar Wai's strange pastry-filled reverie "My Blueberry Nights" is not for those who like movies in which things happen; rather, it's for those in a mood to float, sometimes deliciously. And it's for those willing to tolerate a leading lady who isn't yet an actress. The young jazz singer Norah Jones, making her acting debut, has a voice as sweet and tart as raspberry jam, but what she doesn't have yet is much of a presence on-screen. Her line readings feel a little forced; her face, caught in cinematographer Darius Khondji's reddish pie-filling light, lovely but inexpressive.

As Elizabeth, she's the center of the film, around which better actors revolve. Jude Law, relaxed and beautifully lit, is Jeremy, the proprietor of the little cafe to which Elizabeth retreats to mend her broken heart. When she leaves town (having not noticed, or pretended not to notice, that Jeremy is falling for her), she encounters lost souls on a waitressing journey around the country: David Strathairn is an unhappy cop and barfly still in love with his fiery ex-wife (Rachel Weisz), Natalie Portman a scratchy-voiced young drifter who briefly takes Elizabeth along on her ride.

Each of these actors contributes vivid portraits, but Wong's focus (as in his exquisite recent films "In the Mood for Love" and "2046") is on mood and detail: on the way Elizabeth takes a deep breath as she enters the cafe, letting us, too, smell its sweetness; on the lollipop colors of Las Vegas and the chalky dryness of a green-felt casino tabletop; on the way melting vanilla ice cream merges with a still-warm pie; and on how, when Jeremy wipes a smudge of that ice cream from the face of a sleeping Elizabeth, the film seems to slow down, as if the world's been suspended.

You wonder what a more experienced actress might have made of Elizabeth — but you also wonder whether the movie might have been thrown off by a more forceful performance. Maybe "My Blueberry Nights" needs a soft spot at its center, a stillness around which the rest of the movie can vibrate. Letting us peer through late-night windows flecked with reflected neon, Wong (in his English-language debut) has made not a masterpiece, but a mood piece that'll haunt you if you let it, the way a melancholy jazz tune stays with you like a companion on a rainy night.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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