Blue Jay (Alex Lehmann, 2016)

Blue Jay is a spectacularly touching piece of filmmaking, featuring the highs and lows of the memories from a teenage relationship. Two highschool sweethearts run into each other years after splitting up – their awkward coffee date catch-up at the Blue Jay shifts into an evening of bittersweet nostalgia, leaving the viewer yearning for a life they’ve never experienced. Mark Duplass plays the paragon of this film’s awkwardness, the middle-aged Jim who has returned to his home town to clear out his recently-deceased mother’s house (and his childhood home). This is house where the majority of the film takes place, and the setting in which Sarah Paulson’s Amanda revels in pointing out all the parts of Jim’s bedroom and home that she can remember from their youth’s relationship. This film is heavy with nostalgia, but whilst that is the film’s premise, it’s not the only woefully wistful emotion that Jim and Amanda – and in turn the audience – explore through their evening of remembering.

I finished this film smiling as Duplass and Paulson share their final scene together, but the tears in my eyes mirrored their character’s heavy sadness as they realise they could have had so much more from their respective lives, if only one thing had been done differently within their young love. I’ve never felt this intense feeling of yearning for something that never existed – the true essence of this film – and I honestly didn’t think I’d feel anything like it as I started watching Blue Jay. Filmed in black and white – a simple stylistic choice by director Alex Lehmann to keep the focus on the characters and their journey – I was instantly captivated by the cinematography and stunning shots of the scenery, but it took me a while to roll into the story of Jim and Amanda. Surely this must be felt by many, as a fair portion of the beginning of this film was committed to showcasing their extreme awkwardness towards each other, indicating their time spent apart and the circumstances that must have led to that. However, this provides a contrast to their changing interactions with each other, as they fall back into their old ways of joking about and playing their old made-up games. They clearly both want to forget their own issues – Jim’s depressive and monotonous dull life appears empty, with no friends and now no mother, whereas Amanda’s full and busy life with step-children and a long-term husband still unsatisfies her. It appears they still clutch onto the past, whether or not they do it consciously or subconsciously is yours to think about, but as their awkward fronts are peeled away by the old shopkeeper who remembers them as loved-up kids, or the tapes they found in Jim’s childhood bedroom of their games and affectionate ramblings, they learn and evolve. Both Jim and Amanda revert back to their past, but this ultimately allows them to learn something about themselves and move on, and that is the type of solid all-round storywriting anybody likes to see, and I look forward to seeing more of in Duplass’ future writing.

Between the scenes of Jim and Amanda’s interactions, Lehmann consciously places static shots of the outside scenery. Mountains and trees keep on the same black and white tones as the rest of Blue Jay, but it bridges the gap between the almost empty cast list and Jim and Amanda’s isolated bubble of memory lane. The scenic images embody the natural and peaceful, quiet-but-full-of-life idea of nostalgia – the memories themselves are distant, so long ago the colour has faded, but the vitality is always there. The entire focus of this film is on Jim and Amanda as they are undisturbed by the outside world, occasionally remembering the fact that their time is transient and will never be what it could have been all those years ago.

The fact that Blue Jay was supposedly shot in just one week, and the script itself was largely improvised by Paulson and Duplass, tells the audience that this movie has chosen to concentrate on the cardinal essence of love and loss. By no means conveyed basically, the truthful dialogue and cringey-to-anyone-but-the-people-involved-jokes resonates to the individual audience member, inviting them to wonder about a different pathway they could have taken in life that would have bought them to potential happiness. And, whilst I do think the overall theme and presentation of Blue Jay does manage to do this, and do it well, some individual building blocks become weaker on their own. Whilst anyone can objectively commend Mark Duplass for both writing and performing in this film, undoubtedly handling many aspects of the creative process, he occasionally misses the mark. Emphasis on the ‘occasionally’ as it was only a couple of times his delivery actually took me out of the film. However, I do believe he was playing the tougher character – desolate, isolated, empty; an intensely hopeless state that many people have experienced – and because of that, I still applaud him.

Similarly to what I wrote in my last review of Weekend (Andrew Haigh, 2011) I admired Blue Jay for its ability to evoke a yearning for something lost that was never actual reality. Nostalgia is something every single person experiences, and it can be conveyed in so many ways through the cinematic screen. In this instance, Mark Duplass has written something encompassing this exactly, and with the help of Sarah Paulson’s constant growth as a great actor and Alex Lehmann’s creative outlook, Blue Jay is elevated from a simple and short tale of ex-lovers, to something more poignant about the issues of letting opportunities slip past you. If anyone wants to be simultaneously heartbroken and hungry to seize happiness, Blue Jay is the film for you.

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