A lone bluebird, separated from its mate, its flock, and the weather it deserves, serves as a prevalent symbol in Lance Edmands’ Bluebird. It’s as if all the characters are that feathered friend, away from where they should be, but stuck having to deal with circumstances beyond their control.
And that’s really where Edmands’ film separates itself from most small-town indies. It isn’t about these characters finding a way to escape the dreary small-town lifestyle they’re stuck in. Instead, there’s almost no change at all for anyone, and a bunch of characters you care about failing to change their lives for the better can make for quite a depressing film.
In Bluebird, Lesley (Amy Morton) gets onto her school bus early one morning in the dead of winter and finds that somehow she missed a boy that was left on the bus the night before. He is now in a hypothermia-induced coma, which shatters Lesley’s previously simple life. For the boy’s mother (Louisa Krause), this is just one problem among many, but it’s one that she may be able to cash in on.
Fortunately, this movie isn’t one about a criminal negligence trial. It’s not another courtroom movie detailing the civil suit that could ensue. Instead, it’s just a story about how sometimes life can just heap it on you until it feels like you can no longer bear the weight. For Lesley, the guilt of what happened is more than enough punishment. She can no longer function because of how terrible she feels about what happened. She just sits at home, almost in a stupor, for days on end. The thought of criminal penalty or being forced to pay financial retribution hardly crosses her mind. That’s how overcome she is with grief.
The movie also never tries to place blame. The boy getting locked on the bus is certainly Lesley’s fault to a certain degree, but it’s impossible not to be sympathetic to her just by knowing how much she cares for the kids. It’s also the boy’s mother’s fault to a certain extent, but again, even though she’s an extremely flawed character, at heart she’s good and at all times you want her to find a way to improve her life, bringing sympathy back into the picture. It isn’t about deciding who is at fault, rather the accident is merely that: an accident. It happened, and the movie is about the characters finding a way to get on with with things afterwards.
Considering the story is so focused on the way the characters deal with the situation instead of the situation itself, the success or failure of the film was going to fall directly onto the shoulders of the cast, and they certainly don’t collapse under the pressure. The acting is solid throughout the film, which speaks volumes to both the talented cast and Edmands’ skill as a director. Even the smallest roles are played with skill, but it’s Morton’s performance that carries the film. She’s able to propel every scene forward through her immense grief and sheer terror at what has happened. It’s no easy task to portray shock. It’s been done poorly many times before, but Morton absolutely nails it. The scene where her mug shot is taken is the best in the film, as it’s heartbreaking to watch her confusion and dismay at everything going on around her.
Heartbreaking may be the best word to describe the entire movie actually. Shot beautifully in a style that reflects the snowy background, the depressing aesthetic is felt throughout. Had even the lightest of comedies been shot in this style and given this location it would probably been a dark, somber experience. Setting this story against it, well that’s nearly too much.
Fortunately, Edmands creeps toward the brink, standing with frigid air under his toes before pulling back and keeping the film from being overbearing. The result is a perfectly placed aesthetic for this story, and a truly affecting drama.