Being from England, Judge Paul Pritchard wonders what American digs at Canada are all "aboot."
It's a state of mind.
Setting out to make us question the role politics plays in our daily lives, while also attempting to have us root for the two leads to get together, Blue State attempts to merge two uneasy bedfellows, politics and romance. But will the two genres refuse to sit together and split the film in two, or will they form a great union, like Bert and Ernie?
Facts of the Case
The year is 2004 and Democrat campaigner John Logue (Breckin Meyer, Road Trip vows that, should John Kerry lose to George W. Bush in the Presidential election, he will leave the United States behind and move to Canada. Of course, as we all know, Bush does indeed go on to beat Kerry and Logue's world quickly falls apart. Finding his girlfriend has been seeing someone behind his back, he feels he has no choice but to follow through with his protest against the Bush administration and head north. Joining him on his journey is Chloe (Anna Paquin, X2), a stranger whose reasons for leaving the States are slowly revealed, causing John to reassess a few of his beliefs.
How far would you be prepared to go for your beliefs? That's one of the questions raised by Blue State, writer/director Marshall Lewy's road trip come political comedy-drama, that stands as one of the few post September 11/war on terror movies that doesn't feel like it's preaching to the viewer.
Written to show a personal view of the confusing times we live in, we witness the effects the choices made by the Bush administration have on the life of John Logue, a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat. There are no scenes set in the oval office or arguments in the Senate to be seen here, this is very much living room politics, where normal people deal with the real consequences of decisions made by our leaders and it's all the more powerful and involving for it. We are seeing how major events play out for people like you and me; the political arguments we are witness to here feel real as does the betrayal felt when our elected officials fail to deliver.
Initially seeming to putting across an overly simplistic Democrats = good, Republicans = bad argument, the film takes its time to peel the layers off the characters that pass through. With each layer removed, an often very real truth is revealed as we see people dealing with the consequences of their beliefs and their struggles to coexist with those who don't share their opinions. This is best portrayed in the scenes John shares with his father. Both are at opposing ends of the political spectrum, neither prepared to concede any ground to the other. While his father sees John's liberal views as weakness, John cannot abide his dad's staunch backing of the current administration. When the subject of Iraq, more specifically U.S. soldiers being killed, comes up, the conversation takes a bizarre turn. John's father begins talking like a radio talk show host, demanding his wife "open up the lines" for another caller. As we learn more about his family however, we begin to understand each party's reasons more and find sympathy with them. The family scenes are a highlight of the movie as we come to see how beliefs can tear people apart, no matter how close they may have once been.
Cleverly entwined with the political aspect is the relationship between John and Chloe. Strangers when they meet, the pair's quirks and onscreen chemistry keep the film from getting bogged down in political commentary. Stars Breckin Meyer and Anna Paquin inhabit their roles completely, always believable, their flaws which are exposed as their journey progresses, making them feel more rounded. Maintaining a low-key feel throughout, director Marshall Lewy keeps the film free of bombastic rhetoric. While other films have walked similar ground, Lewy's approach results in a much more satisfying end product.
Apart from an audio commentary by writer/director Lewy, the disc only has a few trailers to offer in terms of special features. Audio and video on the disc are both good. The picture is a little grainy, though as I actually don't mind a bit of grain it's not necessarily a negative point.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Though I'm sure it's mostly for comic effect and really only serves as a plot device to ensure John reaches his ultimate goal, the portrayal of Canadians as overly simple, American-hating oddballs may frustrate rather than amuse some. Indeed, there is a noticeable slip in pacing and quality once the film crosses the border into Canada, the film's focus shifting more onto John's and Chloe's relationship. It loses the equilibrium maintained in the first half between the relationship and the politics. While the film suffers for it, this shift in focus doesn't prove fatal, as by this point the characters have already endeared themselves to us enough to keep us entertained.
Clever, thoughtful, and blessed with a fine cast, Blue State is the type of film very few would venture to the local multiplex to see, but should hopefully find an audience on DVD. Crucially the film never rushes to reveal all its secrets, resulting in our opinions on characters shifting until the final credits roll.
An unexpected gem.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director Marshall Lewy
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