Blue Jay (2016) ☆☆☆(3/4): When they meet again

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The premise of “Blue Jay” is quite simple. Two people happen to meet each other, and their old feelings are gradually revived as they talk more with each other. While the movie mainly consists of their private conversation scenes, its minimalistic storytelling approach works as it is supported well by its engaging lead performers, and the result is a small but lovely character drama tinged with intimacy and melancholy.

After the brief prologue scene showing Jim (Mark Duplass) in his recently diseased mother’s house, the movie promptly proceeds to his accidental encounter with Amanda (Sarah Paulson), who was his high school girlfriend 22 years ago. This could be ended as a mere brief encounter between two old friends who have not seen each other for many years, but then they subsequently find themselves coming across each other again, so they come to decide to spend more time with each other.

As their interaction is continued, we get to know a bit about Jim and Amanda. Jim has been in Arizona for several years, but he has recently lost his job due to a big dispute at his workplace. Because of his mother’s death, he comes back to his small hometown in California, and he is currently staying alone in his mother’s house while understandably depressed about his current state filled with regret and uncertainty.

In case of Amanda, life has been relatively satisfying in comparison. She married an older guy with two kids several years ago, and she has been happy with her husband and stepchildren. She comes back to the town because she has to be with her pregnant sister for a while, and there is a nice running gag involved with the ice cream for her pregnant sister, which will definitely be melted if Amanda spends too much time with Jim.

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As they walk together around several places in their hometown, they notice how much their hometown is changed. They are delighted when they happen to spot an old man running his store as before, and they are more pleased when that old man recognizes who they are. As pretending to that old man that they are still lovers, they certainly feel like going back to their good old time.

After spending some time at the beach of a nearby lake, they go to Jim’s house, and several old things belonging to Jim surely remind them again of how much they were in love with each other in the past. They cannot help but be amused while listening to a funny tape recording which was made by them when they were young and hopeful, and they try roleplaying later as feeling more of what is being brought back between them.

While the movie takes an unexpected narrative turn later as they come to face an undeniable fact of their past relationship, director Alex Lehmann, who also worked as the cinematographer of his film, keeps the movie rolling with considerable realism and spontaneity. Shot in black-and-white film, the movie is filled with wistful nostalgic feelings as the camera quietly observes a number of lonesome sights in the town from time to time, and that subtly enhances the intimate but melancholic mood surrounding its two characters. According to the IMDB trivia, the movie was shot for only 7 days, but it mostly looks smooth and fluid, and I was surprised to learn later that many scenes in the film were actually improvised a lot by its two lead performers, who only received the basic summary of the movie and their respective characters before the shooting.

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While he has been known well for several movies he wrote and directed with his older brother Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass has also been notable for a number of solid acting turns. I was tickled by his comic performance in “Humpday” (2009), and his earnest performance in “Safety Not Guaranteed” (2012) was one of the main reasons why that quirky film worked in terms of story and characters. In “Blue Jay”, Duplass gives another good performance to notice, and I like how he effortlessly conveys his character’s feelings and thoughts while never overplaying them. Sure, Jim is your typical depressed guy coming back to his hometown and such characters are dime a dozen thanks to many American independent movies out there, but Duplass brings considerable life and personality to his character at least, and his character does not feel like a bunch of clichés at all.

On the opposite, Sarah Paulson is sweet and charming in her equally fabulous performance. While she has been mainly known for her acclaimed performances in TV series “American Horror Story” and “American Crime Story”, she held her own small place well between Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in “Carol” (2015), and “Blue Jay” surely demonstrates to us that she is indeed a talented performer who should appear more in movies. Even when Amanda does not say anything, we can always sense what is going on inside her thanks to Paulson’s expressive face, and that aspect is crucial especially when Amanda suddenly changes her mind at one dramatic point later in the film.

Thanks to the good chemistry between Duplass and Paulson and the competent direction by Lehmann, “Blue Jay” is a little enjoyable piece of work. While the movie was released via Netflix in last year, I somehow missed it even though it received lots of praises from critics, and now I think I should have watched it earlier. I recommend it to you without any hesitation, and I can assure you that you will not be disappointed thanks to its two wonderful lead performances to remember.

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