Blue­bird

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - — Robert Ker

Blue­bird , drama, not rated, The Screen, 3 chiles

Set against a back­drop of dim, over­cast skies, Blue­bird presents the kind of op­pres­sive pal­lor that only ex­ists in a north­ern win­ter. This is the re­mote Maine town of Millinocket, not ter­ri­bly far from the mildly cos­mopoli­tan Ban­gor and within sight of hik­ing des­ti­na­tions such as Mount Katahdin — but, for the town’s cit­i­zens, th­ese at­trac­tions might as well ex­ist a hun­dred miles away. Theirs is a hard­scrab­ble ex­is­tence of closing mills and teen preg­nancy, and if this can seem overly bleak, that’s be­cause this is how indie cinema of­ten re­gards such places.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t heart and gen­eros­ity in their ex­am­i­na­tion. Writer and direc­tor Lance Edmands was raised in south­ern Maine, far from th­ese ru­ral hard­ships — but close enough to them that he doesn’t look down on his char­ac­ters, im­bu­ing them in­stead with pur­pose and dig­nity, even as they teeter on the brink of ex­treme poverty.

What hap­pens to such a com­mu­nity when tragedy and tur­moil strike? That is the ques­tion Edmands poses when a young child is accidentally left overnight in a freez­ing school bus, turn­ing the life of the good-hearted bus driver (Amy Morton) up­side down. At the same time, her hus­band ( Mad

Men ’s John Slat­tery) faces the prospect of los­ing lum­ber con­tracts to the strug­gling mill and their daugh­ter (Emily Meade) comes awk­wardly into her first teenage ro­mance.

Th­ese three plots ping-pong along­side the story of the ne­glected child’s fam­ily, and it all works as an ex­er­cise in sus­tained mood more than in ex­pert sto­ry­telling. The film doesn’t reach a cli­max as much as it fiz­zles out, un­able to com­pletely tie ev­ery­thing to­gether. (Nev­er­the­less, it doesn’t once bore.) The dia­logue is oc­ca­sion­ally la­bored, but the act­ing is strong, and we’re pro­pelled into the set­ting and the lives of the char­ac­ters.

Much credit goes to cine­matog­ra­pher Jody Lee Lipes, who earned wellde­served ac­claim with 2011’s Martha Marcy May Mar­lene and who di­rected the re­cent doc­u­men­tary Ballet 422 . Lipes con­stantly finds in­trigu­ing ways to frame the town, drawing us into its world with a flat, ob­jec­tive feel and, in many in­stances, with near-per­fect com­po­si­tion. Edmands is wise to let him go wild with es­tab­lish­ing shots and evoca­tive de­pic­tions of the lum­ber in­dus­try. We see the trees come crash­ing down, the ma­chin­ery churn­ing and smoke­stacks bil­low­ing. It’s not un­til the end that we see the end re­sult — the pro­duc­tion of pa­per. This shift sug­gests that the towns­folk are com­ing out of the hard­ships of the film’s plot, and that some­thing new is about to be cre­ated. Whether or not it hap­pens is up to you.

Back in your own backyard: Amy Morton, Emily Meade, and John Slat­tery

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