This review was originally published during TIFF on September 16
Writing for TIFF's weekly newsletter The Review days before the premiere of his new film at the Toronto International Film Festival, Mark Duplass — the American indie film director, producer, screenwriter and actor extraordinaire best known for his starring role in the FX series The League and the sheer number of projects he undertakes, mostly with his brother Jay — said that when he isn't working on movies or TV shows, he finds himself listening to music, reading or watching "a lot of documentaries."
His first movie as part of a four-film contract with Netflix, Blue Jay, feels heavily informed by his time alone. Written by Duplass and directed by first-time feature filmmaker Alex Lehmann (a former camera operator on The League and documentarian whose first full-length, Asperger's Are Us, is expected to arrive by year's end), it's a melancholy piece of chamber cinema, filmed in black and white and starring only Duplass and Emmy-nominated actress Sarah Paulson (The People v. O.J. Simpson).
Duplass stars as Jim, a handyman who returns to his hometown in rural California to attend to the estate of his recently deceased mother. It's there, in a supermarket aisle, that he bumps into his former high-school sweetheart, Amanda (Paulson), who's in town for a similarly short while looking after her pregnant sister. From their first awkward glances, it's easy to tell there's some underlying tension, which is resolved in-depth as the pair spend a night together in Jim's childhood home, retracing the thoughts and feelings they had for one another as teenagers.
A deeply nostalgic film, Blue Jay finds Duplass and Paulson confronting what could have been in some of their most vulnerable and affecting roles yet. Lehmann's stark and subtle cinematography, meanwhile, will make you wonder why it's taken so long to hear his name.
Though it's likely to get swallowed up by the buzz of all the big-budget features at TIFF this year due to its simple construction, Blue Jay is one of the festival's more thoughtful films and is sure to live on through VOD far into the future. (The Orchard)