Blue Jay

by Derek Deskins

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday October 7, 2016

'Blue Jay'
'Blue Jay'  

I went through a period of time where I had a hell of a penchant for delving into the land of nostalgia. It probably came from a place of loneliness, having moved to a different city with no close friends nearby.

This was a time pre-Facebook, so it wasn't as easy as just rifling through old pictures. I would just sit around and think back to other times, occasionally sending texts or calling friends that I knew would indulge my fascination with yesterday. It was comforting because on a base level, nostalgia tends to strip away the bad and leave a shiny exterior of happiness and sunshine.

But inevitably, that comfort would fade because it was false. It was a personal movie that I was projecting in my brain and the escape was fleeting, with the real world waiting anxiously on the outside. "Blue Jay" is about this land of memory, and it may be the purest form of nostalgia put to film that I have seen yet.

Jim is fast approaching 40 with little to show for it. In his job he hangs drywall, and for the rest of it, he just kind of hangs. After his mother passes, he heads back to his childhood home with the excuse to take care of the now-empty house. While at the local grocery store, Jim bumps into Amanda, his high school sweetheart. An awkward reunion (where no one is quite sure whether a kiss, hug, or handshake is appropriate) soon turns into a trip down memory lane. For all of the fun that reminiscing can be, eventually reality begins to intrude on their fun.

In many respects, it is impressive just how simple yet engaging "Blue Jay" manages to be. At its core, it is little more than a film with two people talking. This is not a showcase for grandiose camerawork or operatic writing, this is about Jim and Amanda and this day that they share together. In this respect, it often feels like a modern day "Before Sunset," with two people reuniting and truly not missing a beat. But "Blue Jay" is simpler than "Before Sunset." It lacks the fantastic location and doesn't have nearly as much deep thinking or meandering monologues that only Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy seem to be able to make not sound terribly pretentious.

And that's not really a bad thing. Regardless of the brilliance of the "Before" series, it has a propensity to alienate viewers, what with its intellectual dialogue and penchant to travel the roads of psychology. "Blue Jay" doesn't have the same goals, and its characters don't seem to have the time to consider these probing types of conversations.

The dialogue feels authentic, lived-in, and conversational in a way that manages to still be cinematic and it was a mix of surprise and a quiet smiling nod when I saw that Mark Duplass had pulled double duty as both star and writer. "Blue Jay" acts as something of the next front of independent cinema following the surge of "mumblecore" that Duplass had a hand in starting over a decade ago. It seemed at the time that "mumblecore" was all about making cinema feel more true to life, populated by largely unknown actors with amateur camerawork and dialogue that was as meandering and often pointless as reality. There were some bright spots in the movement, mostly from Duplass and his brother, but largely it felt like an experiment without a purpose. But if this is what "mumblecore" has grown into, then I am happy to slog through the tedium to get to a film like "Blue Jay."

Duplass doesn't just deserve praise for his screenplay, which is mostly pretty fantastic (except for a third act that feels heavy-handed in its transition), he also earns a heaping pile of credit for his performance. Equally as deserving is Sarah Paulson. For a film to be so small, only populated by these two characters (because Clu Gulager isn't given a whole lot to do), it will live and die by those performances, and I can't imagine "Blue Jay" with anyone but Duplass and Paulson. The two are so fantastically charming and manage never to outstay their welcome. Their chemistry pops off the screen and you truly believe that these are former lovers with an adoration for one another that runs deep. In the case of Paulson, it is a performance positively overflowing with subtlety, communicating more in small moments than Duplass manages with even the most grandiose of speeches. If Paulson hadn't already won me over in her many character roles (she's had me hooked since "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip"), "Blue Jay" would've done more than enough.

My only fear for "Blue Jay" is just how unassuming it comes across as being. Alexandre Lehmann's direction is quiet and unobtrusive. His camera's gaze is steady and does some fantastic work with managing of distance. Mostly there isn't much to do, outside of ensure that his two leads are in the shot, but every now and then he mixes in the softest of little moments to do more to bring us in than I even expected.

Ultimately, however, his minimalist direction is overshadowed by Duplass and Paulson. Often the two communicate such a wonderful unspoken intimacy that it nearly feels inappropriate to be watching, as if we are intruding on moments of immense privacy. That is the heart of "Blue Jay," exploring an intimacy that for all intents and purposes we shouldn't be privy to outside of our own lives. It shows the fragile nature of nostalgia and how small moments can lead to big consequences. "Blue Jay" isn't a film that demands your attention, but it's certainly one that deserves it.