Blue Jay (2016)
Director: Alex Lehmann
Synopsis: Past lovers meet unexpectedly in their hometown and reconnect through one meaningful night.
Overview: I don’t like crying at movies just for the sake of crying. It’s just not my idea of a good time. Sometimes it feels like movies of the romance/drama genre aim to shoot little darts at the ovaries/brovaries of viewers just to get a cheap reaction rather than relying on solid writing and performances to get the message across. Quite frankly, outside of the random repeat viewing of Bridges of Madison County, I never go looking for that kind of “get me some ice cream” heartache. But yesterday, scrolling through the bowels of Netflix, I stumbled upon a little movie called Blue Jay. Full disclosure, I clicked on it because there was a rare, good beard happening on the cover. Then my eyes flicked over to the cast list and I knew I was doomed to spend the next one hour and 20 minutes looking at a pair of high school sweethearts reconnecting by chance over their mutual regrets. Still, I went in skeptical and grumpy. “Why is this in black and white? It doesn’t even add anything. I’ll give it 20 minutes to see if it’s worth my time.” It didn’t take half that long to win me over.
Sarah Paulson is, by and large, one of the best actors in the business right now. She sells every role with a kind of old Hollywood grace and precision. Her character in Blue Jay, Amanda, is no different. We hold our breath with her when she recognizes Jim (Mark Duplass), pretending not to see her standing in front of the mayo, and read every emotion thereafter in her eyes. Appropriately guarded and inquisitive, she walks the careful balance between heart and her mind when reconnecting with Jim. Paulson is always a light in a darkened room, able to draw the eye whether she’s speaking or not. You can see the wheels turning in her head, beautiful kindred moments of wishing she could suck the dangerous words back into her lungs after speaking them. You’ll certainly be yelling, “She wants your scruffy D!” long before she’ll even admit it’s crossed her mind. But no matter what choices you wish she’d make, you’ll respect her to the end.
Duplass seems like he was made for the role of Jim. His idiosyncratic fidgeting and pulling at his beard makes you want to slap his hands away and say “‘Fess up, what’s wrong with you? You look tired.” He is tired, like all of us. He’s made mistakes. And God, he’s vulnerable and sweet without becoming pathetic. That’s a triumph in itself and a testament to quality writing, something Duplass is known for. Jim is likable in his fragility and honesty, whether his eyes are “leaking” or he’s deflecting with charming humour and just trying to keep it together. His emotions reach a peak that stops just short of comical near the end, but most of his performance is endearing and brimming with heart.
There’s a wonderful authenticity to this story regardless of whether you had a high school sweetheart. Anyone who has come from a place they look back on with hardened eyes can relate to the awkward shuffle of recognition around town. Jim and Amanda share memories that seem close to home even when they’re not ours. If lost love is your poison, Blue Jay will probably bring back bittersweet memories that will linger past its runtime. Thankfully, it’s also really funny. I spent most of the movie giggling along with the two as they played, letting their younger selves come out, acting in ways that hit surprisingly close to home. After reminiscing all day, Jim asks “Do you want to have some stupid-ass fun tonight?” and the evening is filled with pure joy. At first it’s a bit too much as they participate in an old game of pretending to be a married couple. This is the only time the film becomes like watching a gross couple through a pained squint and clenched teeth. But as the night goes on, the two become comfortable enough to be fully themselves and confront their past together, having the kind of conversations that sedate even the most restless fly on the wall. Almost like a reward for sticking around, Blue Jay ends up grazing some heavy subject matter, though not as in-depth as I’d have liked.
Blue Jay is a strong start for the four picture deal that Netflix recently established with Duplass Brothers Productions. It’s romance for the skeptic, the kind of blithe but quietly sad movie that people like me skip over and dismiss for something dark and heady. Maybe a beating heart is sometimes better than one ripped out of the chest.
Featured Image: Netflix