Blue Jay (2016)
Director: Alex Lehmann | Runtime: 1h 20mins | Drama, Romance
When Jim (Mark Duplass) return to his hometown, he runs into former high school sweetheart Amanda (Sarah Paulson). They decide to catch up and waves of nostalgia lead the pair in reminiscing of what they once had and whether the lives they lead now are really what they wanted.
Since their 2005 independent hit The Puffy Chair the Duplass Brothers made a name for themselves for small, contained films exploring very real and human stories. Whether in their 2008 follow up Baghead or later works such as 2012’s The Do-Deca-Pentathlon they seem to focus on different aspects of love and the complicated nature of relationship, be it with partners or family, in a minimalistic but engaging way. Blue Jay is no different in this sense, but the clear inspiration from Linklater’s Before Sunrise and the experience gained from the previous films and 2 seasoned TV show allows the work to reach further. In this case, Jay stepped back giving Mark the solo screenwriting role, and brought in Alex Lehmann for his fiction feature debut.
With the aforementioned show and films each time a new Duplass Productions was released you felt them trying to widen their scope, every time expanding the story and characters. In Blue Jay, Mark Duplass stripped back all of this into an incredibly minimalistic look at two characters. There are a few others throughout, but these act as essentially cameos. He stars, much like most of the other Duplass directed/written films, and brings the awkward and stuttering nature he has come to capture so well. However, the star of the film is certainly Sarah Paulson who (until this) was yet to have a starring role, and absolutely shines. The nature of the Duplass films allows the actors to explore the script more freely than others might, which allows Paulson to really engage with her character Amanda. It may affect Mark a little too much however, sometimes his dialogue is a little clunky, but is very minor in comparison to the rest of the film.
The black and white style feeds into the nostalgic feel to the film, once they enter Jim’s house everything is about the past. Old t-shirts, tape recordings and diaries bring up everything from 20 years ago. The choice of filming is not only reflected in the colour palette but the cinematography as well, with very little establishing shots and few edits allowing the characters to flow on screen.
As we get to know Jim and Amanda more and the nature of their relationship we wonder why they aren’t together, especially as they explore how their lives aren’t quite as happy as they wanted them to be when they were young. It almost acts as a mystery, touchy topics and awkward reactions giving us small clues and hints into what happened, all leading to the reveal that hits with such emotional impact, not only testing the actors ability but giving the story depth.
There are a few moments of clunky dialogue and Mark Duplass’ more limited range than Paulson’s giving way (especially towards the end) but after the credits roll you’re left with contradicting feelings of happiness and melancholy, capturing a very natural relationship lost years before.