Bluebird Dir. Lance Edmands

[Factory 25; 2015]

Styles: drama
Others: Heavy, The Ice Storm, All the Real Girls

Y’know, the most frustrating movies are the ones that are almost there. Allow me to explain: as with every art form, cinema is top-loaded with unconscionable, irredeemable garbage. This is a shame, but it’s also an expected one: in our modern, ever-streaming circumstances, we expect to be deluged by an endless flood of shit, and sometimes even welcome it.

What, though, of those films that aren’t shitty, but aren’t nearly enough to shock one out of their shitty doldrums? I speak of those films that have a little something going on aesthetically, enough to pull in the discerning viewer, but ultimately offer little reward for that attention. Mostly destined for the art house (or, I guess, Fandor?), these are movies that will make you feel like you’re not trying hard enough to appreciate them, but most of the time it’s actually the filmmakers who are not trying hard enough to make something worth appreciating. In a way, these almost-good films are more offensive than blatant pabulum like The Interview or 50 Shades of Grey, because they expect us to lend them a modicum of intellectual and emotional weight which they scarcely warrant.

Try as I might to see otherwise, I’m pretty sure director Lance Edmands’s feature debut Bluebird is one of these frustratingly almost-good films. It’s shot well; the soundtrack isn’t offensive, and even includes some pleasant 1950s pop tunes. The tone of both the visuals and the actors is decidedly frigid, but this seems reasonably appropriate given the film’s tough and wintry northern Maine setting. The script isn’t quite sharp, and features some clunker dialogue, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it incompetent (besides, these characters are supposed to be “normal people,” so clunker dialogue is actually pretty realistic). In short, there’s nothing much wrong with Bluebird, really.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing all that right with it, either. I watched it twice, hoping that it was just my divided attention that was making its pacing seem arduous, its emotional resonance seem just a little too muted. Upon the second viewing, I realized that I was looking at it backwards: my attention was divided because I was bored as shit. Deliberate pacing is fine, ditto hard-to-like/penetrate characters, but there has to be a reason to keep watching somewhere in there. As far as I can tell, Bluebird doesn’t quite have that.

It certainly should: this is a movie about a little kid being locked on a bus overnight and potentially dying of hypothermia. At the very least, it should be easy to feel for the kid. The bus driver (Amy Morton) who accidentally let it happen and the kid’s irritating deadbeat mother (Louisa Krause) might be complicated characters, but it shouldn’t be hard to care about their respective situations. To be fair, one could conceivably become invested in these characters’ plight somewhere in the film’s final act, but the wait is exhausting, and by then it just doesn’t seem worth the effort. In fact, aside from mild annoyance at the aforementioned deadbeat mother, it’s hard to get invested in much of anything about this film.

Edmands seems to have something to offer, and many have certainly flubbed their feature debuts much worse than this. Still, it’s more fun to watch an immaculate failure than a near-success. Through that lens, Bluebird just feels like another almost-good disappointment.

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