Friday, January 6, 2017

Woah! Why Haven't More People Been Talking About The Intimate And Powerful Netflix Movie Blue Jay??

So far, Netflix's forays into the world feature films haven't been as successful as their TV shows and they've easily being overshadowed by Amazon's various box office and awards hits like Manchester By The Sea and Love & Friendship. But 2016 showed the company was capable of releasing some high-quality feature films such as The 13th (one of the year's best movies) and now Blue Jay helps solidify the idea that Netflix may just get a handle on the motion picture side of the entertainment equation yet. I have no clue why Blue Jay hasn't garnered more attention but make no mistake, it's quite the gem of a motion picture.

The set-up for Blue Jay is elegantly simple; two High School sweethearts, Jim (Mark Duplass) and Amanda (Sarah Paulson) run into each other at the age of 40-ish at a grocery store in their hometown. Their initial encounter is, well, awkward, as you can imagine, but the two do decide to get a cup of coffee and try to catch up on what's happened to each of them in the ensuing years since High School ended. From there, the awkwardness of their first reunited encounter fades away as they reminisce about the good o'l days and open up about the problems and feelings they're experiencing in their modern day lives. It's all very small in scale and concentrated just on the conversations between these two human beings, and lemme tell ya, Mark Duplass's screenplay does a great job creating riveting but realistic dialogue for the two to pass back and forth.

Now, personally, I have a tendency to be fascinating by well-crafted tales relying on wistful attitudes for years long since passed. These kind of artistic endeavors can be shallow if done wrong, the kind of pieces of work that put rose-tinted glasses on the past in favor of examining one's history with any sense of depth. But done right, they can tap into a part of our psyche we all carry, one that obsesses over the past. I'm not old in any sense and even I can't help but stay up at night sometimes going over in my head ways I screwed up in High School or things I could have done better in the past. Something tells me that's also a topic Mark Duplass finds himself fixated on to considering how exquisitely he executes a tale of rekindling with an element from one's past as a chance for dramatic substance instead of just an opportunity to hokey devices like overused period era music cues.

A critical way Duplass's writing manages to be so emotionally resonant is that he keeps the story low to the ground in scope, eschewing even supporting characters (only one other actor appears in the movie that isn't Duplass or Paulson) in favor of examining these two reunited souls and how they've both changed and stayed static over the years. Director, cinematographer and camera operator Alex Lehmann handles these extended conversations from a visual perspective that channels an unobtrusive approach to match the scripts restrained style that lets the characters and dialogue take center stage. It's the kind of discreet filmmaking that's so subtle you might not catch it while watching a certain movie but when taking stock of the entire film as a whole, you realize how indispensable it is to capturing a certain type of atmosphere.

And then there are our two lead actors tasked with bringing the characters to life. Mark Duplass, whom I've seen in only a handful of films in the past like Zero Dark Thirty and Safety Not Guaranteed, turns out to be a strong choice for the part of Jim. As written, Jim is a wounded man barely holding together (he's having employment difficulties and his mother recently passed away) and the reintroduction of Amanda into his life creates friction. He's trying to figure out how to move ahead with his life and then this prominent figure from his past comes back into his life. It's a very complex psychological profile to paint but Duplass handles it extremely well, particularly in showing how much more comfortable Jim becomes hanging out with Amanda again as the night progresses. You can practically see the shell around this man begin to wither away by the way Duplass plays this character.

Meanwhile, Amanda gets portrayed by Sarah Paulson, a woman who solidified herself as one incredible actor with her turn as Marcia Clark in the People v. O.J. Simpson miniseries early last year. For those like me who were eager to see what else she could do as an actor, well, look no further than Blue Jay, an excellent demonstration of the kind of top-notch acting talent Paulson carries that she executes in a seemingly effortless manner. Like Jim, Amanda has a gradual change in demeanor over the course of their time spent together, though hers revolves around her becoming more vulnerable and open about her challenges as the night goes by. In her most susceptible moments, Paulson exudes an incredible sense of realism, carrying a phenomenal sense of realism in her dialogue delivery even while executing a mightily understated performance that matches the overall aesthetic of Blue Jay. Paulson brings an equal level of authenticity for the moments where Amanda just lets loose and has some fun indulging in some nostalgia for the good o'l days with Jim, an astute demonstration of the emotional range that this role requires that Paulsons accomplishes with incredible success.

While the two work exceedingly well on their own merits, both Sarah Paulson and Mark Duplass also have great chemistry just bouncing off each other, an immensely important aspect to this movie that could have gone completely off the rails had the two leads just not had a natural rapport with each other. Luckily, both Duplass and Paulson make for engaging leads both together and separated and they help make Blue Jay one abundantly fascinating movie that has two human beings enwrap themselves in the past while coming to terms with the future. Exploring that theme with such deft and craftsmanship helps Blue Jay soar to emotionally gripping heights.

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