Posted by Joel Copling on March 3, 2015

Catharsis is important, and it is this crucial element that "Bluebird" is lacking. Not that the film doesn't suffer from a set of issues before the dangling final scene that offers its characters no closure. The shadow of 1997's masterful "The Sweet Hereafter" looms over the likes of this genteel but contrived drama from debuting writer/director Lance Edmands (who, at least, has an eye for lengthy shot compositions that take full spatial advantage of the film's Maine locations), and although comparisons are cheap, in this case they are warranted: A small town is shot through with controversy after a tragic incident involving a school bus.

At least when Edmands is focused on the direct aftermath of this incident, the film is at its most effective. Lesley (Amy Morton) has driven this bus and two others for 12 years now, while her husband, Richard (John Slattery), took up logging a decade before. The job, she says, seemed easy enough, the pay was good, and it was more interesting than working at a cash register. She also loves the kids, so when young Owen (Quinn Bard), asleep on one of the buses, is left in a hypothermic coma as a result of Lesley's being distracted during the regular inspection of her bus, she is understandably devastated. This is not how she normally conducts her inspections, and even the cop questioning her about the incident seems to know, underneath the professionalism of conducting an investigation, that the woman is not at fault in any way that wasn't accidental.

That does not suit the boy's mother, Marla (Louisa Krause), an inert figure not far off from being deadbeat, if not for her clear sense of regret and guilt about what has happened to her son. She decides to press charges toward Lesley, who quickly becomes the talk of the town in entirely predictable ways. Her daughter, Paula (Emily Meade), has an unnecessary subplot involving her own sense of rebellion, sleeping with a guy she likes and quitting her job on a whim as a way to get back at Richard, a father who never seems to be there. The young boy's grandmother (Margo Martindale) shows up merely to discourage Marla of her behavior, and Adam Driver's extended cameo as Marla's co-worker/sometimes-lover is completely extraneous.

The subplots are, more often than not, the same type of extraneous outside pressure on the rest of "Bluebird," which leaves approximately all of them, as well as the central premise, unfinished and unfulfilled. The performances are generally fine, especially Morton's anguished reading of Lesley and Krause as a mother who perhaps became one too early and regrets, without saying it aloud, not being there for her son. Jody Lee Lipes shoots those Maine locations, as well as the interiors of Paula's convenience store and the cozy, little houses in which these people live, with delicate grace. But that grace is not afforded to the characters themselves, who remain types in a muted melodrama that doesn't offer them relief where it should.

Film Information

Amy Morton (Lesley), John Slattery (Richard), Louisa Krause (Marla), Emily Meade (Paula), Margo Martindale (Crystal), Adam Driver (Walter), David Buchstaber (Milton), Quinn Bard (Owen).

Directed and written by Lance Edmands.

No MPAA rating.

Released in select cities on February 27, 2015.