Monday, 19 February 2018

Blue Jay (2016)

Blue Jay is, for the most part, a two-hander of a film that allows stars Sarah Paulson and Mark Duplass to show how well they can work together. If you're fans of those two then you should get some enjoyment from this. If you're not . . . well, it's certainly a riskier proposition.

Paulson plays Amanda, and Duplass plays Jim. The two meet in a convenience store, completely by chance, and viewers are quickly made aware of the fact that they used to be in a relationship. Many years may have gone by since they were student sweethearts but that doesn't necessarily mean that all of those feelings, buried for so long, aren't still simmering away just below the surface. The two settle into an easy and comfortable mix of reminiscences, play-acting, and talk about their lives in the here and now.

Blue Jay will certainly strike the right chord with some people. There are moments of honesty and melancholy that will resonate with anyone who has been in a relationship, a surviving one or a broken one. But it has the potential to aggravate others, which is how I reacted to it for most of the middle section. I blame Duplass, who also wrote the film. And when I say that he wrote the film I mean that he came up with a summary and decided to enjoy an extended improv session with Paulson. That could have worked if the conversational tangents didn't feel so obviously affected and downright actorly. Instead of a naturalism in the performances, we instead get the feeling that we are watching two people desperately trying to match one another for the approval of some guests. This is just the same as the two children who set up a curtain in the living room, lift it up to step forward and perform the little play they just wrote, and bask in the glow of proud adults. That's sweet, it's good for the kids, and often good for the adults who may not have other plans on a rainy day in November, but it's not always the best approach to film-making.

Paulson and Duplass aren't bad actors, as anyone who has seen them in other roles will know, and they manage to elevate a few moments here and there, making the whole thing almost worthwhile. There's also a small role for Clu Gulager, and I often enjoy seeing him appear onscreen. It's just a great shame that nobody warned them that a number of their scenes might come across as being a bit smug.

Director Alex Lehmann, making his feature debut, does what is asked of him. Or what he's told to do. There's no escaping the fact that this feels like a product more controlled by the Duplass brothers than anyone else involved, which should have been a big plus. Unfortunately, this is a well-intentioned misfire that serves more as an inspiration to other low-budget film-makers out there than as an actual entertaining movie.


You can buy it here.
Americans can buy it here.

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