Director: Alex Lehmann
Cast: Mark Duplass, Sarah Paulson
Watch Blue Jay online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
Relationships are messy, in a way that can be uplifting, beautiful, tragic and painful, sometimes all at once. What comes after a relationship, then, can be just as tangled, in a way that few films, swimming in a sea of formulaic rom-coms, manage to capture. Blue Jay is one of them.
The movie begins with an awkward reunion between Jim (Mark Duplass) and Amanda (Sarah Paulson), former high-school sweethearts who have since fallen out of touch. It’s not a planned meeting or even a necessarily happy one: she’s back in town to visit her pregnant sister and is picking up ice cream; he’s sorting out his family home, following a tragedy, and is picking up booze for himself. It’s a scene that sets the tone for the whole film: a rambling, free-flowing wander down memory lane that lets two once-connected souls bump into each other, and simply stands back and watches it happen.
The tone, sitting between the sweet recollection of nostalgia and the sorrow of forgotten wounds, immediately recalls Before Sunset, and director Alex Lehmann captures their interactions with the kind of unobtrusive intimacy that made Richard Linklater’s trio of romantic films so affecting. Where Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s couple had three films to move their chemistry from burgeoning lovers to old flames, though, Blue Jay manages to conjure up an engrossing, involving history in under 90 minutes.
That’s mostly thanks to Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson, who deliver two terrifically tender performances. Duplass has always excelled in the mumblecore arena; he has knack for improvising and reciting lines of dialogue without us being able to tell the difference, pausing mid-sentence to pick at his beard or laugh at something unexpected. Paulson, meanwhile, has seen her star rise deservedly over the years, climbing from scene-stealing background roles to award-winning lead parts, and her blend of spikiness and sincerity is the perfect foil for Duplass; together, they tease out those ties that still weave between former couples in real life, remembering each other’s favourite sweets and replaying old in-jokes. They move from coffee to jelly beans, the ice cream long forgotten, and in no time at all, are back asking each other the kind of questions that strangers never could. It’s all done with a wonderfully understated air; it’s not their asking that matters, but the fact that they often don’t need to say the answer for the other to understand.
More a one-act play than a movie, you can imagine the two-hander playing out on stage, and Lehmann gives their exchanges that immediate, raw quality by shooting it all in black-and-white – the kind of move that could seem cliched, but works incredibly well. That’s true of the whole production; Blue Jay is nothing monumentally new, following a vein of work that ranges from Linklater’s Before… and Blue Valentine to Two Days in Paris, but it’s superbly done, building up quietly to a moving climax that continues asking awkward questions all the way to the final frame. It’s messy – and it’s marvellous.
Blue Jay is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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