Although the film has been described as being in the vein of Before Sunrise, or that the twist in the film affects the proceedings, to these critiques of Blue Jay, we say, “no way”!
Director Alex Lehmann’s charming little film is very much its own entity, and yet so much of it relates to writer and star Mark Duplass’s increasing milieu about the mindset of the enlightened liberal American male. As such, Blue Jay, which has opened theatrically in New York and Los Angeles and is now available on VOD, is the sort of film that will receive an audience at festivals, (it debuted at TIFF), but deserves to be watched and enjoyed from start to finish.
The film is a meditation on the past versus the present. Lovingly shot in black and white, Duplass plays Jim and Sarah Paulson is Amanda, about whom very little is known. They meet cute in a grocery store in a tiny California town, (the scenery is as much a character in the film as the two leads), and they proceed to spend the day and night together, clearly still deeply in love with each other, (or perhaps with what they once felt). The film at one point seems like a take on Certified Copy, though its simplicity certainly works to its advantage. This is seemingly a film from another time, though its pervading feeling of modernity almost separates it from many American independent films. At its essence, it’s a slow, talky, almost stage play-like experience and this sort of film is woefully neglected in a hyper modern landscape in which indies are often frenetic and soundtrack-driven and bereft of silent reflection.
One aspect of Blue Jay which should not be taken for granted is the performances of Paulson, who is predictably stellar, but also that of Duplass, who walks the fine balance of making his character not so much the hero protagonist, but possibly the flawed antagonist, in that he has feelings and emotions. This feature makes for a change of pace in that it’s entirely strange to see a male character that is free to be non hyper-masculine. In Blue Jay, the neat trick is that the gender roles are seemingly reversed and the film is a subtle take on masculine paradigms, (which is a crucial subject, especially at this time).
The problem with Blue Jay is that this approach isn’t going to work for many of its potential audience members. So rather than letting the film get unseen, make sure to engage, to actively watch, and not search for clues. Let this Blue Jay sing and be listened to.