Blue Jay is the directorial debut from Alex Lehmann starring Sarah Paulson and Mark Duplass with the latter also writing the script. Shot in black and white, it’s a natural, lo-fi drama with authentic, connecting performances.
Duplass plays Jim who’s out shopping and happens to bump into old flame Amanda (Paulson) and before we know what their relationship is, or was, it’s clear they have more to say to each other than initial awkwardness. We then learn they’d previously dated in High School but now haven’t seen each other for twenty years and, in that time, their lives have taken very different paths. In a narrative that’s often played out in this era, it can be challenging keeping it fresh with a sense of connection but Blue Jay manages this successfully. This is due to our two lead characters who gradually reveal things they did in their past life together and where they’re at right now. It’s a setup that could comfortably play out on stage.
After we discover that Jim has returned to the old home town because his Mum has died and he’s back to sort out the house, they have coffee and head back there to continue their reunion and end up happily drifting down memory lane with music, recordings and once shared memories. This isn’t just a look back into the past, it’s an exploration of time lost and those well-known ‘what ifs’ that come your way once you get past 30 years of age. Their memories don’t haunt the everyday but nostalgia grows as time goes by and we learn that Amanda is seemingly enjoying her life, or so she says, with a loving husband but Jim’s going through a harder time and feeling lost but you get the sense of a deeper, possibly buried connection. While they spend time flicking through their shared memoirs, and even delving into roleplay, certain questions arise such as… are they doing it each other? Is Jim doing it for the love he lost? Is Amanda doing it because she wants to find that younger self she hears on a cassette? The carefree recollection of the past is easy to jump into it but you really start to wonder if they’ve romanticised it all.
The Duplass team have found a calling that works and you willingly step into their world because it feels natural and normal. While this film is another investigation into the ‘now’ and whether decisions made were correct, it doesn’t feel self-indulgent or overdone, it’s relevant of the society we’re in today and changing relationships. You may be happy, that isn’t questioned, but sometimes it’s fun to step outside of the skin you’re in and explore the unknown, like you did without knowing when you were younger.
Blue Jay is beautifully filmed by Lehmann with a captivating performance from Sarah Paulson who is also honest and understandable as Amanda, with an inkling of something lying underneath that we’ll only understand later on. While Mark Duplass takes on the role of a character he’s played similarly before, he suits that narrative and brings forth an everyman quite straightforwardly. Natural humour and drama, measured performances, it’s a lo-fi love letter to looking back, accepting what changes and then moving forwards.
Blue Jay review by Dan Bullock, September 2016.
4/5 – Blue Jay premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s released in select cinemas on October 7th and will be on Netflix later this year.