Mark Duplass has had a life most people could only dream of. Since breaking big with The Puffy Chair in 2005, the Louisiana-born multi-hyphenate has created countless movies with his older brother, Jay, through their own company (Duplass Brothers Productions), helped popularize a style of filmmaking that, like many well-defined subgenres, was met with derision by its supposed creators (the poorly named mumblecore), and has starred in critically acclaimed comedies (The League and The Mindy Project).
But Blue Jay may be his biggest accomplishment yet. A stark and sombre affair, the film — the first of a four-picture deal between the Duplass Bros. and Netflix — is a total departure from his other work. Directed by Alex Lehmann, it tells the story of Jim and Amanda (Emmy award-winner Sarah Paulson), two former high school sweethearts who cross paths while visiting their hometown, stirring up all sorts of emotions as they reminisce about their past romance and the life that could have been. Amidst all the glitz and glamour, it was probably the most honest and natural film to come out of TIFF in 2016.
During the festival, Exclaim! sat down with star, writer and producer Mark Duplass to talk about the film. Here are five things we learned.
1. Duplass embraced his nostalgic side while writing the movie.
"I'm a nostalgic and melancholic person and I kind of curb that in most of my work, and this movie started with me thinking, 'What if I just open the fucking floodgates and just let it all spill out over a black and white movie,'" he says.
2. Blue Jay is purposefully awkward and uncomfortable at times.
In the opening moments of the movie, Jim and Amanda awkwardly set eyes on each other in a grocery store after years away from one another. It's an honest and humorous moment for anyone who's been in a similar circumstance, and something Duplass thought deeply about.
"I'm always struck when I see someone in particular that I know from my past. The way that you look at each other always fascinates me," he says. "It's always some wonderful mixture of shame, pride, ego, bragging, false humility, real humility — all that stuff, that swirling thing to me, is really sweet and funny and sad. It's the perfect soup to make this movie out of."
3. Even if you're one of the world's most well known filmmakers, you never fully get over high school.
"I think 98 percent of my time when I look back on my high school self, I'm like, 'You were an overly earnest idiot and took yourself way too seriously,'" Duplass admits. "And then 2 percent of the time I'm like, 'I've lost something. He knew something great and I want some of it back.'"
4. Blue Jay tackles Duplass' feelings on life and death as he begins his forties.
Duplass celebrated his 40th birthday on December 7. While at TIFF, he discussed what it was like looking on the end of his thirties and his life ahead.
"I'm really close with my dad who's 70, and we talk about this stuff a lot. This weird feeling of how quickly time is passing," he says. "There's a moment in the film where my character talks about how there's enough books [on his late-mother's bookshelf] he couldn't read before he dies. And that's normally a sort of overly serious statement, but I think that what this movie is about is having a sense of humour about that, understanding that on any given day that can be funny to you, or it can be kind of crushing. And that's how I see the world. Sometimes I'm totally cool with it, like, 'Alright, life's half done and I'm good with it.' And sometimes I wake up and it's like, 'Wait, it's already half way over?!'"
5. Therapy taught Duplass to have confidence in his filmmaking skills.
"It's changed me as an artist and a person drastically," he says. "I don't want to be reductive about it, but I was a person who felt like I had to have answers for people in my work life, in my personal life, and that made me good and confident and a good leader and all that stuff. And I've just grown so much as a filmmaker by learning to say, 'Huh, I don't know. Let's try to figure this thing out.' And I was so deathly afraid to do that, because I thought it meant I was a shitty filmmaker. And the admitting of the not knowing and the hunt to figure it out has turned out to be what I have to offer as a filmmaker, if anything. And I used to be ashamed of that, because I'd watch Coen Brothers movies and think, 'These guys fucking know everything!' And now I've learned to forgive myself for not being a Coen brother and it's okay."
Blue Jay is on Netflix now. Read our review of the film from this year's TIFF by clicking here.