“No more I love you’s. The language is leaving me.” — Annie Lennox, “No More I Love You’s”
We’ve all been there. You see someone you haven’t seen in a long time, but an inexplicable shyness makes you turn away and hope they haven’t seen you. Moments later you may have a change of heart, so you take a chance and say hello. Blue Jay starts with that very familiar scenario, two high-school sweethearts awkwardly run into each other at the supermarket. Jay (Mark Duplass) spots Amanda (Sarah Paulson) first, and chooses to avoid her. Amanda then spots Jay, and chooses to do the same. But they eventually cave in and greet one another. This awkwardness sets the tone, informing us that a deeper past exists between them. It turns out the two were teen sweethearts, and after spending 24 years apart they use this chance meeting to travel down the road of nostalgia, to revisit familiar places, and re-explore their history.
Jay invites Amanda back to his place. There are plenty of smiles of re-kindled affection as the two read sweet letters from their past, dance around to ’90s songs, and reminisce about all the fun times that made the relationship work in their younger days. As I mentioned to Paulson in a recent interview, one highlight is when Amanda and Jay are dancing to Annie Lennox’s “No More I Love You’s.” It’s a moment to savor before we are jolted back to the present and the realization that what could’ve been isn’t going to pan out. Both Jay and Amanda have been hurt, they’ve taken different paths in life, and here they are again — at another crossroads leading them to separate destinations.
More layers are peeled pack and the climax occurs when Amanda discovers a letter that Jay had written her long ago, but never sent. All through the film, we’ve sensed an untold story in Amanda’s eyes. We know she’s been holding something back, and this letter brings it all to a head.
Alex Lehmann transitions seamlessly from the world of cinematography to directing with quiet visual grace. There’s a gauzy beauty in his decision to shoot in black and white as he evokes a wistful sense of faded past. His choice reflects the delicate simplicity of the narrative and allows us to focus on Paulson and Duplass, and their snapshot interaction. With the exception of store-owner Waynie (Clu Gulager), the only two characters we see are Amanda and Jay. It is Paulson and Duplass to whom the film belongs. Both are utterly delightful to watch and we’re transfixed by their performances for the entire duration of the film. The genuine chemistry that exists between the two makes the experience all the more pleasurable. Duplass is a straight-up charmer, his familiar humor shining through. His Jay has all the requisite charisma you’d expect and then some. Her fans get to see the real Paulson, sans poodle-perm wig, with minimal makeup and everyday wardrobe. It is Sarah Paulson’s natural radiance that illuminates this film.
Though it’s certainly no secret, let me say it again with fervor: the great Sarah Paulson is a treasure in the acting world. Watching her command the screen as lead in Blue Jay and The People v. O.J. Simpson after significant smaller roles in Carol and 12 Years a Slave makes me crave to see her in more leading lady roles.
Tender, touching Blue Jay has a brief run time of 85 minutes, perfect for a thoroughly charming story of a love gone by that once lit up with passionate fireworks before slipping into memory. It’s about reflection, growing up and growing wiser, and accepting the fleeting gifts that life gives us and just as quickly takes away.
Blue Jay is available to stream through Video on demand