“Blue Jay” Review by Nate Blake

I had the realization a few days ago that, due to COVID-19, I have not been to a theater for nearly two months, which has got to be the longest I’ve gone without going to a movie in a least half a decade. I miss the theater going experience, but I realized I miss writing about films more. Though I’ve been writing about the new season of Westworld, I’ve slacked off from my film posts a bit since we all began quarantining. That ends now.

Earlier this week I posted on social media and asked our readers to tell us some films (any year, any genre) that we haven’t reviewed on this blog that they would like us to discuss. The first recommendation we received was for Blue Jay, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2016 and was released on Netflix a few weeks later. I had never heard of this film before, possibly due to my insanely hectic work schedule at the time it came out. I wasn’t spending a lot of time reading about what was premiering at film festivals in early autumn four years ago. I may be a little late to checking this film out, but I’m so glad someone recommended Blue Jay because it is wonderful.

Blue Jay stars Sarah Paulson and Mark Duplass (who also wrote the screenplay) as Amanda and Jim, two former residents of a small town in California who have returned for different reasons and who run into each other at the local supermarket. From their first, rather awkward, interactions in the film, we figure out that they were once a couple, and we also get the sense that something devastating drove them apart. But they seem to pick up where they left off in youth. Amanda even blows off plans with her family and spends the entire day (and night) with Jim.

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This a character driven film with little plot, and its pleasures come from learning more about these two very richly drawn people. Even though I am talking about a film that’s four years old, I have a feeling it’s one a lot of people have not seen. Again, this film is streaming on Netflix and it’s only 80 minutes long. It’s worth your time. I will say there is a long segment where the characters fondly recall and then engage in some role playing. After it goes on a bit, you may wonder where all this is going. Trust me, it pays off. There is a big reveal towards the end, and when it happens and you discover why these two broke up many years earlier, a lot of the character traits revealed through the role playing enhance your understanding of how these two probably handled the situation in their youth.

Blue Jay demonstrates how a powerful film can be made on a small budget with a minimal cast and only a handful of locations. I also appreciated that director and cinematographer Alex Lehmann chose to shoot it in black and white. Its gorgeous and perfectly matches the nostalgia Amanda and Jim are feeling. That nostalgia is not just for each other, but for youth, and in this case the early 1990s. About half of Blue Jay unfolds in Jim’s boyhood home, where he and Amanda spent a lot of time while they were dating. As they rummage through his bedroom and relive old memories, they revisit 90s music, technology and style.

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Nostalgia for the 1990s is strong in pop culture right now, and nothing has confirmed this more for me than looking at our blog’s page views month after month and seeing our 2018 review of Mid-90s pop up. Very few of our older reviews appear in our monthly page view list as often Mid-90s does. Blue Jay certainly isn’t as focused on 90s culture as Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, but I do think it will impact you differently if you lived through the 90s than if you were born in 2001 or if you were already in your 30s in 1990.

In terms of the performances, they are both solid. Sarah Paulson is great. As I think about, most if not all of the roles I’ve seen her in are either in historical films or political thrillers where she is playing a real person or a composite of real people. Performances in films such as 12 Years A Slave, Game Change  and The Post come to mind, as well as her current roll in Hulu’s Mrs. America. I’m also aware that she was in many seasons of American Horror Story, which I haven’t watched. I enjoyed seeing her in this role as Amanda. I don’t think it’s the type of performance we typically see her give, yet she is ideal for it.

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As for Mark Duplass, I think this is the first thing I’ve seen him in and he is also very good, though there are just a couple brief moments where he gets dangerously close to overdoing it. Jim is a much more emotional character than Amanda and it’s something the characters discuss a lot. Most of them time, I think Duplass really understands this character and makes the right choices, but there are just one or two moments where he goes too far. Again, they are brief, and I can forgive the few missteps in his performance  because of his excellent screenplay.

I strongly recommend giving Blue Jay a watch. Had I seen it in 2016 it certainly would have made my top ten list for that year. Honestly, looking back on 2016 I think its an easy top five pick and a movie I’ll probably re-watch multiple times eventually.

Thank you for reading. If you have a film you’d like me/us to review, post your recommendation in the comments and we’ll add it to the list. We just learned here in Illinois that the stay at home order will continue until at least the end of May, so we’ll have plenty of time on the weekends to watch older movies and write reviews.

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