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It’s the unexpected encounters in the safe corners of our lives that can have the greatest impact. Old friends and old lovers can come from any corner and it’s how we deal with these moments that help define who we’ve grown to be. Naturally, we all look back, but how often can we do it with someone we long ago parted ways with? With Blue Jay, an intriguing black & white film, that exploration is a deeply personal observation that brings two former lovers to a time and place they thought was lost. But is it right?
Jim (Mark Duplass) comes back to his hometown after his mother passes to settle the house and property. She had kept everything as it was for over twenty years, keeping and collecting all her son’s possessions just as he left them. Jim has not completely fulfilled the promise of his youth and feels some disillusionment in the rough road his life has taken. Perhaps the house could be a new direction.
At the town grocery store where Jim is shopping, in walks Amanda (Sarah Paulson), his high school sweetheart, a woman he has not seen since. There is a moment of recognition and then awkwardness and then a sense of comfort. They fumble over some words and it’s not long before they decide to catch up. A coffee turns into a long walk, and a stroll through some old haunts, and at last, back to his mother’s house where they discover his old room, filled with relics of their past. This includes old clothes, music, love letters and even recordings they made together as teenagers. As they fall back in time, they waken to the truths of the present, scarred by questions of the past.
Directed by Alexandre Lehmann, and written by Duplass, Blue Jay is a dialogue-heavy film that stretches credibility on a few occasions, but is a mostly very grounded tale of two people who were once very clearly in love, young explorers with proper dreams of a future unencumbered by reality who now live in that truth and find some escape in their pasts. Boosted by two very natural performances (save for one brief appearance by one other actor, they share the entire film alone), and a nostalgic script, there is a genuine pull for one’s own self-reflection.
These performances are the key in what is essentially a filmed stage-play. Duplass has consistently proven himself a quality presence, a slightly edgy actor that uses small gestures and minimal expression in his work. Here, as Jim, he is a lonely, internally angry man, bearded and weighted, forced to face his youth, even without meeting Amanda. She is a married woman to a man more than twenty years older, and clearly in a state of limbo about the decades from her teens to now. Paulson is so effortlessly sincere here, a woman imploding and desperate for affection, it’s arresting. Together, the sense of incompleteness hangs between them like a serrated blade.
They try to avoid the obvious at first, playing coy and enjoying the memories, maybe a bit too much as they role-play themselves as a happily married couple, which leads to a vulnerable moment afterward. What separated these two for so long lingers throughout as we are left to guess until its startling revelation. Yet, a fundamental flaw exists concerning a letter that Jim wrote to Amanda twenty-two years earlier, one that she discovers in the house but doesn’t tell him she’s found until it serendipitously becomes exposed. That the contents of the letter are revealed ruins what might have been a defining moment, much like the whisper at the end of Lost in Translation, and so closes a question much better left unanswered.
Blue Jay is an engaging tale that captures a lot about what we are as a naturally reflective species, and as it comes to an ambiguous end, we wonder about what has been learned and where it will go. A slightly flawed experience, this remains a touching and earnest film worth a look.
Director: Alexandre Lehmann (as Alex Lehmann)
Writer: Mark Duplass
Stars: Mark Duplass, Sarah Paulson