Movie Review: “Bluebird”


Lesley is a conscientious school bus driver. A kid doesn’t have a stocking cap for his snowy walk home from his bus stop, she gives him hers.
She parks her vehicle at the end of a shift, mentions to the school district mechanic something about one of the wipers sticking, and does a quick walk-through. And darned if a bluebird doesn’t fly in after her.
It’s winter in Maine, and that’s unusual enough to demand her attention. Lesley (Amy Morton of TV’s “Chicago Fire”) never sees the kid curled up and dozed off near the back of the bus. By the time she stumbles on him the next morning, he’s frozen–nearly dead.
“Bluebird” is the title and blue is the mood of this intimate indie film about the ripple effects of tragedy, and how it never rains, it pours.
Because even though the trees still tumble, the paper mill, seen in all its semi-automated glory in the opening scene, is reducing production. There’ll be less work for lumbermen in Millnocket, Maine. Rick (John Slattery of TV’s “Mad Men”), Lesley’s husband, may be out of a job.
Then there’s Marla (Louisa Krause), the mother of the child who froze. This terrible accident — a word we don’t seem to accept in this litigious age — has some of her fingerprints on it, too. She’s a bitter, tuned-out pothead of a waitress, pregnant in her teens, she has let her mom (the great Margo Martindale) raise her kid. Except for that one day, when Marla was supposed to meet him at the bus.
Emily Meade is Paula, the cute high school clarinetist coping with the first boy to pay attention to her, wondering if sex is what it will take to change the subject that the whole town is thinking about, if not talking about — that her mom “killed” that little boy.
“Bluebird” has a serene quiet about it, with writer-director Lance Edmands matching his tempo to a rural way of life’s pace. Much is left unsaid even as life goes on — teens having snowball fights, Marla in denial over her child’s fate and her role in it, local police figuring out what constitutes “criminal negligence” and old wounds, old love affairs, bubbling to the surface.
Nobody here has a Maine accent, not even a hint, which would have cemented the movie’s sense of place. But the cast is otherwise quite good. Morton and Martindale and Adam Driver (as a cook-pothead beau of Marla) stand out. Slattery, so dapper and droll in “Mad Men,” is convincing, physically, in this blue collar guise. Until, that is, Rick has a long, dialogue-filled scene with a former fling. A city sophistication and educated polish slips in that doesn’t suit the tractor-saw driver’s persona.
“Bluebird” never rises to the heights of grief, guilt and regret of the film it most closely resembles, Atom Egoyan’s “The Sweet Hereafter,” achieved. But Morton gives us a wonderful take on silent suffering. Lesley’s efforts to cope in out-of-date small-town ways with a tragedy that’s been regulated into something more sterile, impersonal and formal are so moving that they make “Bluebird” a worthwhile trip into the wilderness of grief, guilt and regret.

MPAA Rating: unrated, with adult situations, pot use, profanity

Cast: Amy Morton, John Slattery, Margo Martindale, Louisa Krause, Emily Meade, Adam Driver

Credits: Written and directed by Lance Edmands. A release.

Running time: 1:30

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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