Release: Friday, October 7, 2016 (limited)
Written by: Mark Duplass
Directed: Alex Lehmann
In Blue Jay, Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson make a little adventure out of being a couple long since broken up. When the former high school sweethearts bump into each other at a grocery store in their hometown after 20 years, they spend an entire movie — the first in a four-movie deal Duplass has recently inked with Netflix — taking a stroll down memory lane.
It’s actually a wonderful conceit and who better to handle the walking and talking and thick-beard-charmery than Mark Duplass? Looking fresh off the set of a Carhartt commercial (yet well within the definition of a typical mumblecorian protagonist), he stars as a 30-something-year-old blank slate barely named Jim at the beginning of the film. Over the course of a breezy 80 minutes we will come to know more about him through his awkward-then-amazing interactions with co-star Sarah Paulson, who plays his high school girlfriend, Amanda.
The two find themselves back in their native Crestline, California for different reasons. A conversation over coffee soon reveals just how many other things have changed in their lives. But their genuine attraction to one another has clearly endured. They slip right back into roles they have long since vacated as they go about town reminiscing about their youth and “uncool-ness,” enjoying the most romantic not-date anyone has ever experienced.
Throughout we become privy to a series of revelations that intimate a shared past filled with joy but one not devoid of pain. The question looms ever larger despite (or perhaps because of) all the fun being had: what could have possibly caused such kindred spirits to drift apart?
While Duplass has a screenwriting credit, the foggy haze of memory and nostalgia is realized through a combination of improvised dialogue and intuitive performance. As is true for any low-budget indie, well-made or not, the experimental approach carries with it a significant risk of failure. Blue Jay was also shot in black-and-white on a camera originally designed for military use. This would all seem like a tick-list of indie affectations had the film shown no interest in connecting with its audience.
Blue Jay is quite a lot more than artifice. It’s a perpetually enlightening experience chiefly concerned with the way we romanticize the past, particularly past relationships. Jim and Amanda prove that reconciliation is possible if you really want it. (I guess you also have to be a little lucky, too.) I wanted for this to go on longer. Eighty minutes simply isn’t enough when you’re in the company of people who are as adorkable as Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson.
Recommendation: Bittersweet indie film is tailor-made for fans of Mark Duplass’ unique sensibilities. It’s also a great showcase for Sarah Paulson, who steps into a role I don’t think I’ve ever seen her play before. Blue Jay gives us so many different ways of dealing with the pain that inevitably comes with the break-up. In that way the movie is pretty inspiring.
Running Time: 80 mins.
Quoted: “Are you going to be the first female white rapper to open for Public Enemy?”
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