Featured: Amy Morton, Emily Meade, John Slattery
(Photo : Photo Credit: Jody Lee Lipes Courtesy of Vacationland Films LLC)
Bleak and powerful are words to describe Lance Edmand's directional debut "Bluebird." Set in the frozen woods of an isolated Maine town, the film tells the story of Lesley (Amy Morton), a school bus driver who goes about her day picking up children. Her distant husband, Richard (John Slattery) works in the logging business while her daughter, Paula (Emily Meade) is a disconnected girl in search of acceptance and friendship.
One day as Lesley does her daily routine checking the bus, she spots a bluebird. Lesley is transfixed by the bird and forgets her routine; in the process, she leaves a child behind. The next day after a chilly night, Lesley does her early morning check and discovers the young boy Owen half frozen and in a coma. Lesley's mistake leads her to lose her job but the repercussions also cause her already disconnected family to test their strength and unity.
Edmand also introduces Owen's mother Marla (Louisa Krause), a destructive young woman who works at a bar, takes pills, and smokes weed and drinks. That night she works, hangs out with her co-worker Walter (Adam Driver) and then falls asleep in the tub. There is no indication of who Marla is and what connection she has in the movie until the next morning. Her mother Crystal (Margo Martindale) arrives at her home desperate to tell her the news. Her son's tragedy leads her to rethink and generate mixed emotions she thought she could never have.
Edmand's biggest strength is introducing the tone of the film from the start. The snowy terrain is introduced in a montage of shots that are intercut with trees being cut down. There is no sign of any living human or animal on the streets and instead everything seems to be peaceful. However through his montage it is apparent that there is a snow storm coming; the storm is both literal and figurative.
The introductions of these characters also set up the bleak and quasi-depressing state they will eventually have to endure. Lesley seems happy with her job but she is unable to smile regardless of the fact that she is with children. Richard is lonely in his job and barely ever comes home early. Paula sits at restaurant isolated from the rest of her classmates. When the family is introduced together they are quiet at the dinner table. Paula is uninterested as she plays with her food while her parents are unengaged and can barely look at each other. When Marla is introduced she is singing in a dingy bar clearly struggling to get through the song. She is then seen with her co-worker Walter smoking weed and engaging in sexual activity. By the end of the night she is in a bathtub drinking and taking pills as if she is ready to escape from the world forever.
The fact that there seems to be no hope or life for any of these characters during their respective introductions only makes the bluebird device more effective. For Lesley it is probably strange to see a bird in the cold of the winter and it is a rare occasion of survival. Yet, this living creature ironically brings about death and haunts Lesley throughout the film.
"Bluebird" is lead by an effective performance by Amy Morton. The actress is silent throughout and never cracks a smile. As the film progresses her demeanor becomes unkempt. Her once colored hair becomes embedded with grays. She also has no issue doing physical damage to herself. At one point as she is peeling potatoes, the peeler slides onto her finger and cuts her. However, Lesley seems numb and does not even react to the pain.
As Richard, Slattery too is quiet and never says much. His face reads pain for his wife and his inability to do anything. Meade is equally reserved but she is a time bomb ready to explode. From the beginning of the film, Paula has some hostility toward her father. She does not want to have dinner with him and when he questions why she does not eat, she shrugs him off. However as her frustrations become even greater she eventually breaks. In one scene when she sees Marla, she chases after to her. It seems like this will be a confrontation between the two but instead she goes to her boyfriend's and has sex; it is her way of taking out her frustrations. When her father questions her tardiness, Paula yells at him and guilts him for everything that is happening to the family.
Krause's performance as Marla is also striking as she is erratic and dysfunctional. At one point she seems cold and unemotional towards her son. She leaves him at the hospital with her mother and prefers to spend time with Walter. However during a confrontational scene with Lesley, Marla disintegrates and hysterically cries and yells. Krause also adds to her performance through her disheveled look. She does not brush her hair and wear over-sized jackets and shirts.
Edmand also adds a raw quality in the cinematography. The shots are very dark, grainy and at times underexposed. The use of color is very spare as there are many hues of blues, browns and the shots are filled with wide, still frames. Rarely does Edmand use a dolly, tilt or pan.
Overall "Bluebird" is a terrific film that can be trying at times. Edmand never gives any hope that these families will get through the dark times and never allows his characters to live with any glimmer of hope. However, the film's tonal congruity and top-notch performances will surely resonate.