By Greg Canzio (Fort Pierce, FL, United States)
Remember your first love? A love that could never be broken. What happened?
Blue Jay follows ex-lovers Jim (Mark Duplass) and Amanda (Sarah Paulson) who reunite in a supermarket two decades since they have last seen one another. Following the death of his mother, Jim returns to fix-up his childhood home, while Amanda is in town visiting her pregnant sister. While their interaction starts as small talk, emotions and memories begin to resurface as the two play a game of “what if.” With a plot suited for a light-hearted Rom-Com, Blue Jay is an incredibly personal film about first love.
The title of the film, Blue Jay, is actually the name of the diner that serves as a “safe place” for Jim and Amanda. A place where they can continue their small talk and hold up their invisible shields. There is a sense of resentment between the two. But as the ex-lovers visit Jim’s childhood home they are transported back into a world of puppy love. Jim’s room is like a time capsule, untouched for twenty years. Still bearing the evidence of their past relationship. Amanda finds an old tape recorder as the two listen to their High School selves acting out their fictional 20th anniversary of marriage. This must be heartbreaking as it’s been twenty years since they have last seen one another. As the night goes on, the two lower their shields, as Jim and Amanda recreate their teenage years.
While Jim and Amanda’s past relationship seemed perfect, there is this sense of mystery that hovers above them. The reason behind their break-up is not revealed until the film’s climax. This revelation may be a tough pill to swallow for some viewers as the film changes drastically in tone. But Duplass and Paulson do a tremendous job presenting Jim and Amanda in a completely vulnerable state.
Duplass and Paulson are impossible not to love. Their performances are genuine and touching. Duplass, who also wrote the film, has mastered playing the everyday guy. This may be due to the fact Duplass’ range as an actor is limited, but it works for him. Jim, the more emotional of the two, is more exposed than Amanda, dealing with frequent “face leaks.” Paulson, whose range as an actress is alarmingly impressive, plays Amanda with a more poise, yet there is a void in her seemingly perfect life.
Duplass and Paulson’s insane chemistry is highlighted by a scene where the ex-lovers slow dance to Annie Lennox’s “No More I Love You’s.” While many films this year have struggled with one-dimensional characters, there are layers to Jim and Amanda that Duplass and Paulson play to perfection.
Blue Jay is a minimalistic film that runs for only 80-minutes, shot in black and white, and anchored by only two performers (besides a 60-second interaction with a liquor store clerk). But the film is more rewarding than most of the two hour plus blockbusters of 2016. While first-time director, Alex Lehmann does not break any new ground, this is an incredibly strong start to a promising career. Blue Jay is the best film about ex-lovers reuniting since Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset and will be under heavy consideration when I make my “Best of the Year” list.