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