Georgia Oakley’s directorial debut Blue Jean offers a look back to 1988 England, when modern audiences may need it more than ever. Jean (Rosy McEwen) feels compelled to keep her sexuality a secret as a result of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government preparing to pass a law stigmatizing gays and lesbians. She fears that her job as a gym teacher would be in jeopardy if the law were to pass. Considering the many laws being passed in the US right now, Blue Jean offers audiences the opportunity to step into the shoes of those impacted by such things. As noted many times, movies are empathy machines – and Oakley’s film succeeds in that role.
McEwen is tasked with carrying the weight of Jean’s burden. Lucky for the audience, she’s more than up to it. From the opening shot of Jean dying her hair, we get the complexity of the film’s protagonist. Jean isn’t entirely comfortable with being out; it shows in many of the looks McEwen gives and is further conveyed through her character’s body language. She is the happiest when she is with Viv (Kerrie Hayes) at the gay bar, away from prying eyes. Viv is the epitome of gay pride and has no fear or doubts about who she is, which is a great foil to Jean. The relationship is, of course, rocky as a result of one being the other’s slightly shameful secret.
The real conflict arises when a new student, Lois (Lucy Halliday), arrives and blurs the careful line of separation Jean has created for her personal and professional lives. Lois is going through her own struggles with her sexuality. Neither should have to be persecuted because of who they are attracted to, but both are living in a time where that is exactly what is happening to them. The juxtaposition of the two very different stages of this struggle only adds to the overall tension the film crafts.
Modern movies don’t always allow for a scene to breathe. Oakley is willing to let moments linger, and thusly provide the actors with room to perform within those scenes. It doesn’t have to be spoken to understand what Jean is going through. When there is dialogue, it is purposeful, and it helps expand the inner turmoil that Jean is struggling with. The emotional pay-offs for the film are so great because of what’s not there as much as what is, thanks to the patience Oakley brings to the moments.
Blue Jean is not only a powerful film with tons of emotional moments but one that feels far too relevant right now. Last year, The Happening, Plan B, and Unpregnant felt so needed as Roe vs. Wade was being threatened. Movies like Blue Jean certainly already exist, and maybe a film that was more focused on the politics of the time could work. However, there is something so much more powerful about the specific story of a person impacted by a law that makes it feel universal.
Blue Jean will be in theaters on June 9.
Rating: Must See