Beyond Fright Review: BLUE JAY (2016)
We all have one. A first love that made us see life through optimistic blinders and caused us to look at our future in an eyes wide open type of way. We wished and expected the best for each other and there wasn’t a damned thing that would sway that young love flowing through those youthful veins…and then life stepped in. For one reason or another, life stepped in and had other plans, causing you as a couple to go in very different paths. Do we live on, for decades and decades of trying to capture that first love, or do we simply just get by with what we’re given? Those questions are one brought to light in Alex Lehmann’s BLUE JAY, a film about the rediscovery of that first love, many years later, leading to what is by far one of the most honest and heartfelt films in a very, very long time.
While grocery shopping for the usual necessities, Jim (Mark Duplass, SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED, CREEP) notices a familiar face shopping in the same aisle: Amanda, his high school sweetheart and the love of his life. He looks left and right for an exit and decides to ignore her. Amanda (Sarah Paulson, MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, The People Vs. OJ Simpson) eventually notices Jim as well, and when it’s impossible for each of them to get out of the awkward situation, they pretend to just see each other and strike up a very brief conversation before going their separate ways. When walking to his car outside, Jim realizes he’s parked right next to Amanda and the two chat for a bit, with Amanda admitting to visiting town to see her pregnant sister and Jim mentions living in Arizona but visiting as well. Amanda is now married and a step-mother to her husband’s two children, while Jim is single. While the initial meeting inside of the grocery store was an awkward 20-year in the making encounter, once the two begin talking outside, it’s apparent that they want to catch up and decide to have coffee together.
Meeting for coffee and discussing what life has brought each of them since their breaking up decades before, you can tell that there’s a connection between the two, that even years later is very much still there. Amanda talks about her family life and Jim says he’s married to his work, never have gotten married or anything like that. We’re already connected to this high-school sweetheart couple that went through different paths in life and as viewers, we’re wondering not only where the encounter will take them, but what led to these two individuals who are most certainly meant for each other to have broken up. It’s that series of scenes and the performances which Duplass and Paulson given us early on that catapults this curiosity and keeps you as a viewer glued to whatever eahc of them are saying. Amanda tells Jim that she wants to see his house, and after going to the small town gas station employed by the great Clu Gulagher (his one scene is an endearing one, making the assumption that it’s so special that “two lovebirds” stayed together, not knowing they didn’t) that helps us begin to see playful side to the duo that gives us a glimpse into who they were as a young couple, playing along and making up stories about their fictional life together and kids. It’s adorable in a way that never feels cheesy or sappy whatsoever, it’s obvious that these two have a very deep connection to each other yet harbor deep issues that we as a viewers still aren’t privy to.
Where the film goes from there, is to Jim’s house, where the two go through letters, tapes and memories of the good ol’ days, filled with their younger selves rapping into cassette players, kissing and being sweet and so on. We also see Amanda find a sealed letter that Jim had written her decades before but never sent her, a letter she pockets. As the night goes on, the two reminisce over the good ol’ days, pretending to be a married couple, dancing together, rapping and playing hilarious games together that cause each of them to not only evaluate where they went in life away from each other but cause them to really sit back and ask themselves why things went wrong. As time goes on, we’re given such a beautiful and sometimes sad character study that really goes in deep into Jim and Amanda as people, but the version of themselves they were as young kids and the present day, somewhat worn and unhappy realizations that had they chosen the same path in life, they’d most likely still be together and happy at that. It becomes a very serious and downright sad realization why things went wrong and there ‘s a pain in that, a sincere and realistically upsetting series of moments where we as viewers feel absolutely gutted knowing that there are two people destined to be together but like so many others in real life, things happened to cause a divide between them that led to hearts broken with time, culminating in what is easily the best scene ever performed by Duplass, the guy breaks your heart in ways anyone who has ever experienced a true loss could identify with and baring his soul in ways that don’t feel like a performance, both Duplass and Paulson put themselves out there in ways very rarely captured in film.
What BLUE JAY is, is the kind of character study of the deepest kind, a film so genuine and unparalleled that you can’t help but to feel broken FOR Jim and Amanda, because Duplass and Paulson allow you into themselves in ways actors strive to do for their whole careers and these two are able to in one beautifully heartbreaking film. It causes you as a viewer to ask yourself if the paths you’ve taken in life and love were ones you’re proud of, or if there are people you moved on from who would have made you truly happy, had you fought the true battles together instead of running scared. It’s a rare treat and a film which is one a kind. Duplass and Paulson bare their souls and give the performances of their careers in this one, and it’s a film that you’ll remember for a long, long time.