' Cinema Romantico: CIFF Review: Bluebird

Thursday, October 17, 2013

CIFF Review: Bluebird

If you have survived a harsh winter, and as both a native and current Midwesterner I can attest to having survived a great many of them, you understand their oppressiveness. Snow seems permanently embedded to the ground, the frozen chill refuses to subside, the sky just won't stop being grey, and any reasonable human being feels the urge to withdraw from the world in general and hibernate until spring (which likely won't arrive until April). Director Lance Edmands captures that wintry relentlessness with an astute eye and an indescribable ability to imbue mentally that you too are trapped in this Maine tundra (the guy sitting next to me put on his jacket midway through).

Thus, "Bluebird" purposely and a little problematically wears you down. It will not give an inch on its weary atmosphere. Even the character names come slathered in somber metaphor. The primary family's last name is Dyer. The requisite slime-infested lawyer's last name is Lyman. Even the symbolic respite that provides the film its title doubles as a harbinger of doom. That is, Lesley (Amy Morton), a school bus driver in the small town where the film is set, is distracted by a bluebird during her routine check after dropping her many young charges off, and fails to see little Owen sleeping in one of the seats. She finds him in the next morning. He has gone into a coma on account of hypothermia and is rushed to the hospital.


Owen's mother Marla (Louisa Krause), her mind clouded by her usual diet of drinks and drugs, was supposed to pick him up but forgot. Not that she would have even been taking Owen to her own home since her son stays with his grandmother (Margo Martindale), who patiently remains at Owen's side, forced to watch Marla go back out for more drinks and drugs. The requisite slime-infested lawyer shows up and suggests monetary compensation.

A lawsuit and her own error might be enough to make Lesley loony, but there's more. Her husband Richard (John Slattery) is on the verge of being laid off from the local lumber mill where he has worked for 25 years, though he keeps this to himself. He keeps mostly to himself. The subject of his past infidelity is raised, never addressed. Slattery's (the film's) funniest line is as follows: "This house is falling apart." It's so uninterested, as if the house has been falling apart for quite some time, as if life in general has been falling apart for quite some time.

Paula (Emily Meade), the lone daughter of Lesley and Richard, seems the sliver of light, but the gauntlet of a New England winter combined with familial distress gets to her too. The boy she's sorta seeing promptly brushes her off after they have sex and her life at school is unavoidably affected by her mother's horrible mistake. Still, she has the guts to stand up to her father, and mostly no one else appears capable of such intestinal fortitude. Morever, she is the only one with an occasional smile not merely meant to mask the sadness.

The film's finest moment finds Paula, who works part-time at some sort of value store, stocking the shelves with assembly line snow globe music boxes. As she does, she winds up each one so that the music plays and the itsy-bitsy fake snow falls. The next scene shows Marla slumped in her parked car, popping pills and smoking a cigarette. It's winter. It's not going to end. You choose how to cope.

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