A filmmaker’s commentary defends the ill-timed political comedy Blue State

A filmmaker’s commentary defends the ill-timed political comedy Blue State

Crimes:

  • Making a film with a premise so time-sensitive, it was doomed to be a dusty period piece by the time it came out: a passionate liberal blogger (Breckin Meyer) vows to move to Canada if John Kerry loses the 2004 presidential election; then he has to live up to his promise, via a road trip with mysterious drifter Anna Paquin
  • Burdening Paquin with a secret so transparent, she practically wears a giant sign reading, “Please don’t ask me about the dark secret I’m hiding from everyone” in every scene. 
  • Indulging every lazy, glib Canadian stereotype in existence
  • Trying to capture the zeitgeist with clumsy dialogue like, “I thought that blogging thing was really taking off for you, what with the election and all” 
  • Being even-handed only in the sense that it makes Republicans, Democrats, Canadians, and Americans all seem more or less equally insufferable

Defenders: Writer-director Marshall Lewy

Tone of commentary: Mild, affable, details-oriented. Lewy seems like an eager-to-please young man who set out to make a funny, relatable film about politics without being shrill or didactic—but failed miserably. Lewy says he tried to “toe the line between things that are real and things that are funny,” but he ended up with a film that’s neither. His need to keep repeating that the film is a comedy suggests something went wrong.

Blue State’s commentary track offers the strange, sad spectacle of an artist trying to convince himself he made the right choices and ended up with something worthwhile, in spite of all evidence to the contrary. Particularly unconvincing: his defense of the film’s take on Canadians as smug, superior, heavily accented assholes as a necessary corrective to depictions of Canadians as either unfailingly polite, or quasi-Americans. 

What went wrong: In the script, many of Meyer’s “tirades” are substantially longer, but Lewy discovered that film isn’t a medium conducive to lengthy speechifying. Lewy acknowledges that a character as overtly and loudly political as Meyer can strike audiences as “abrasive” and his speeches can get dated quickly, yet the director deluded himself into thinking he’d slipped out of both traps by making the character’s rants an organic part of his abrasive, instantly dated character. Lewy similarly cut a long Paquin speech about life in Iraq because he felt it foreshadowed the revelation that she served there—though even without the speech, the while film leads up to that revelation clumsily and heavy-handedly. 

Lewy puts an unrelentingly positive spin on everything, proclaiming, for example, that the film had two composers not because one was fired or screwed up, but rather so one could handle the upbeat, cheerful comic music and the other could handle the weepy, melancholy sad music. That alone says much about the film’s strange, lurching tone. Also, the film’s many hilarious curling montages (nothing funnier than non-Canadians curling!) were trimmed for time. 

Comments on the cast: Lewy observes that many actors “wither under the lights and the pressure” when acting opposite “great” actors like Meyer and Paquin and “are not as good as you thought they would be,” but that wasn’t the case with supporting player Adriana O’Neil, who didn’t seem at all intimidated to be acting opposite the non-animated lead of Garfield. Lewy adds that the film was largely scripted, but Paquin and Meyer (“a sharp, quick-witted guy as well as a great actor”) were free to improvise, and many of what he considers to be the film’s funniest lines burst spontaneously from Meyer’s sleepy id. 

Lewy notes that Paquin’s involvement allowed Blue State to get made—it didn’t hurt that her brother Andrew produced the film—but it still required more than 40 investors. The filmmakers auditioned a lot of different actors opposite Paquin and felt Meyer “clicked” best with her, which is surprising given that he had stronger sexual chemistry with Nermal in Garfield than he does with Paquin here. 

Lewy has surprisingly little to say about Paquin, beyond noting that she was “extremely upset” about the unhealthy food her character has to eat, and she did not know how to drive a car. Paquin at one point poured orange juice into her cereal bowl during a scene at a hotel, arguing that this was typical of her character’s kooky shenanigans. The move proved confusing to some of the folks they showed the film, but Lewy nervously, only half-convincingly professes to be happy with her eccentric choice. 

Inevitable dash of pretension: Lewy says the actor who plays Meyer’s cartoonish caricature of a right-wing blowhard dad excelled because he combined deep empathy for the character with “respect for the words” rooted in his background as a theater actor, and treated the film’s clunky, non-starting script as if it were a Harold Pinter play. To prepare for the film, Lewy and his director of photography watched Mean Streets, Y Tu Mamá También, Flirting With Disaster, Chungking Express, and the films of Hal Ashby. These preparations don’t seem to have influenced the film in the least, in spite of Lewy’s hopes that their genius would seep into his film, if only through osmosis.

Commentary in a nutshell: Lewy unintentionally highlights one of his film’s many fatal flaws when he laughingly observes, “One of my film-school professors I think said that tone is a slippery pig at a barbecue roast, or something like that. It’s true. Whatever that means.”

Filed Under: Film

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