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‘Blue Jay’ (review)

blue_jayProduced by Mel Eslyn, Xan Aranda
Written by Mark Duplass
Directed by Alex Lehmann
Starring Mark Duplass,
Sarah Paulson, Clu Gulager

 

Former high school flames Jim and Amanda (Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson) meet by chance 22 years later in their hometown grocery store.

After a charmingly awkward hello, the two part ways, only to meet up again in the parking lot.  They decide to have some coffee together and catch up.  During the chat over coffee, Amanda seems to really have her shit together, leading a seemingly very happy life.  Jim seems to be barely hanging on, and even begins to cry as Amanda speaks about her husband.

Visits to old haunts soon follow, as the former lovebirds spend the evening together.

Blue Jay (which refers to one of the old haunts) has no real story to speak of, but the coffee scene smartly sets up the tantalizing possibility of secrets to be revealed and drama to unfold.  Fans of indie relationship films won’t be disappointed; in fact, the film has the feel of an excellent indie drama from the 90s, the kind which don’t seem to be made anymore – at least not with the same high quality.

Basically a two-hander (save for a terrific cameo by reliable character actor Clu Gulager), films like this rise and fall on the lead performances, and it’s no great shock to report that both Duplass and Paulson are superb.  They both look great, too – Duplass looks like the movie star he should be, and Paulson has never looked lovelier.

They make a very appealing duo, if not necessarily a couple (no spoilers!). They certainly play at it, though, culminating in a wonderful use of a classic Annie Lennox song that is one of my favorite scenes of the year.  Like the film as a whole, the scene is funny, touching, romantic and a little sad.

The screenplay is credited to Duplass, but he has said that the film is semi-improvised.  Both actors excel at it; while there are fumblings and stammers and such, they feel utterly organic and immerse the viewer into the film. So many improvised indie films can be deadly, yet Blue Jay works beautifully.

The film was directed and shot by Alexandre Lehmann, and refreshingly, he knows where to put the camera.  There are no distracting, lousy choices that sometimes ruin “actor’s movies”. The camera was almost unfailingly placed in the best spot to tell the story.  Also, the gorgeous black and white adds immeasurably to the wistfulness and melancholy underlining the narrative.

Fans of intimate relationship dramas, like Tape or the Before movies (Sunrise, Sunset, Midnight) should eat this movie up.  At 80 minutes, there’s never a dull or false moment to be had, and while some may quibble with the denouement, I found it immensely satisfying.

Blue Jay is one of the year’s best.

Blue Jay is now playing and is currently available on VOD platforms

 

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