Tribeca Film Festival 2013
By Don Simpson | April 23, 2013
Director: Lance Edmands
Writer: Lance Edmands
Starring: Amy Morton, John Slattery, Louisa Krause, Emily Meade, Margo Martindale, Adam Driver, Brandon Wardwell, Patrick Murney, Parisa Fitz-Henley, Quinn Bard
As Lesley (Amy Morton) does the routine end-of-day inspection of her school bus, she becomes distracted by the presence of a bluebird. As quickly as the little bird flies away, this fleeting event creates a tsunami of consequences for Leslie. Found to have been negligent in her job duties, it is Lesley’s inaction that leaves a young boy hospitalized in a coma.
The comatose boy’s mother Marla (Louisa Krause) and grandmother (Margo Martindale) need to blame someone, because they certainly do not want to face their own negligence as his guardians. There is no way around the fact that Lesley should have finished checking her bus, but the boy’s family never once called the school, bus company or police to report the child missing. Instead, Marla passed out in her bathtub after a late night of drunken karaoke, never knowing (or caring) if her son was safe.
As it turns out, Marla did not want to have a baby when she was just 17-years-old; but her mother is “religious,” so Marla was forced to have the baby. This choice — or lack thereof — trapped Marla in this northern Maine logging town where she earns a measly paycheck as a waitress at a Chinese restaurant. As an escape, Marla turns habitually to alcohol and drugs; she has all but given up custody of her son to her mother.
Marla sees her lawsuit against Lesley as an opportunity to get out of her financially-constrained rut. Little does Marla know, if she does win the case, there will not be much money to get from Lesley’s family. Lesley will almost definitely lose her job as a bus driver, while Lesley’s husband Richard (John Slattery) is counting the days until the local paper mill closes, which will render him unemployed as well. With not many other employment opportunities in this economically-ravaged town, Lesley and Richard are destined to lose their house to the bank.
Writer-director Lance Edmands’ film contemplates the economic risk of working in jobs in which you are responsible for other people’s lives. As a bus driver, Lesley probably never thought about what would be at stake if anything happened to one of the children on her bus. All people get distracted while working, yet most of them do not risk a lawsuit or jail time as a result of an innocent ten second distraction. That seems to be a humanly impossible expectation — for someone to never get distracted while they are working. We all make mistakes. The problem is, we are a society who likes to assert blame. We are also a society who loves to sue each other purely for financial gain.
Edmands makes his opinions fairly clear on the matter. As a result, it is difficult not to have some level of sympathy for Lesley and anger towards Marla. That said, Edmands is studious about pointing out Lesley’s — as well as her family’s — faults. They tend to do a lot of stupid things, but so does Marla…and so does everyone in the world. We also see just how riddled by guilt Lesley becomes; she grows increasingly fragile, moving around like a zombie. If only these people could just communicate with each other…
Bluebird is an impressive directorial debut by Edmands, who gets incredibly naturalistic performances from his very capable actors. Edmands ties his characters to the nature that surrounds them; the trees and snow both factoring directly into the emotional struggle of the characters. (One might even conclude that Lesley is being emotionally pulped.) Those very same elements also seclude their town, cutting it off from the rest of the world, leaving them to deal with their own problems. One might think that journalists would flock to cover a story about a young boy who was left alone on a school bus on a cold winter night, but we never see any out-of-towners.
Captured with a frigid blue and green color palate by cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes, Bluebird is similar in mood and tone to Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter — yes, and both films deal with the passing of guilt, blame and responsibility associated with a school bus. Observing the unique qualities of the natural light during the outdoor scenes, I realized just how few films I have watched that were actually shot in northern Maine during the winter…if any. Then I think, were they crazy?! Shooting in northern Maine in February?! At least they probably did not need to pay for any fake snow.