Richard Linklater created a subgenre with his “Before” trilogy: gentle and soulful musings and contemplations on life by a blissfully aware couple in love. The European and dialogue-driven sensibilities are an apparent influence even in admittedly shaggy and improvisational mumblecore films. Despite a mannered finale that is slightly at odds with the free-flowing tendencies of the film, Blue Jay achieves winning success by following such templates and relying on the delightful chemistry of its two leads.
This is a simple film that deals with relatable intimacies. In a chance encounter, former small-town high school sweethearts (an endearing Sarah Paulson and a sheepish Mark Duplass) reconnect after a decades long hiatus and find themselves reflecting on their current relationships and lives. Paulson’s Amanda is a determined career woman who married into a family, while Duplass’ Jim, still stinging from the aftermath of the breakup, has never fully developed into a responsible adult and frequently succumbs to the overwhelming stress of life with violent outbursts. The comforting black and white cinematography provides snug assurance over the proceedings, even when the characters are far from confident and struggle to implement perspective to their history. There’s an honesty in how the tight script balances the tense burden of nostalgia.
Ultimately, this is a film of lived-in grace that holds much love for its characters and suggests we all deserve happy closure in life. Come for Sarah Paulson beat-boxing and rapping, and stay for the thoughtful catharsis. [B+]