Kasia Kowalczyk’s film Bye Bye Blue is receiving a great deal of buzz as it prepares to debut on the film festival circuit; actress Sarah Coomes is a major part of this. Sarah’s moving performance as Flora breaks down a number of walls around two subjects about which the public feels great unease; homelessness and mental illness. Though they’ve been displayed numerous times, the performance Coomes delivers in this particular production draws a very clear line that communicates her circumstances in a very relatable way. A great actor is not only someone who is believable in the role but who enables the audience to see something of themselves in the character; something Coomes resoundingly achieves in Bye Bye Blue.
Clever is a word which might imply someone with dual intent, perhaps even duplicitous. While Sarah’s presentation of Flora is most certainly clever, there is no ill intent or deception involved; at least not by design. The remarkability of both actress and film in Bye Bye Blue is that we not only discover more about this person whom we are quick to judge, but also come to understand our own inclinations of labeling others in difficult situations. Flora is a woman afflicted with a mental illness brought about by physical circumstances. Describing her iteration of the character, Sarah describes, “I didn’t want her to be presented as a ‘mad person’ or typical person that we’ve seen so often in film. I did a lot of research about people with mental illness and how their minds become fragmented. They become dissociated with reality and are forced to construct new ones. Honestly, it’s a way of investigating the amazing human mind and what it can do to protect itself. That’s vastly different than someone screaming and pulling their own hair out. I researched everything from schizophrenia to imaginary friends. There’s a huge spectrum out there.” As recipient of awards from the Jerwood Foundation, RC Sherriff Trust, and winner of the Westminster Prize Soho Theater, Coomes is known throughout the industry for her dedication to detail in constructing her characters.
This Kasia Kowalczyk directed film is the depiction of a young woman living on the streets who has collapsed outside her tent. While it is clear that she is suffering from some mental illness, hearing disembodied voices and only tolerating clothes which are blue, it’s evident how dire her situation is once she is taken to the hospital. While the doctors attempt to explain to Flora that her brain tumor is killing her and increasing her mental symptoms, she is unable to accurately process this. When Sarah (as Flora) flees the hospital in a panic, her desperation is palpable. It’s at this point when the film becomes surreal and points to Flora’s end. Her imaginary friend “Blue” leads her to the beach where they play. Flora is confronted with the notion that she must either say goodbye to Blue or die.
What both the filmmakers and the actress have done in Bye Bye Blue is to personalize, justify, and place a very real face on those who live on the streets. Coomes in particular manifests layer upon layer of a young woman dealing with the most sobering of circumstances while being void of a support system. Her personification of this character is deeply moving and altering. What could have been a gross over simplification bordering on a trope was instead crafted into a person of which many of us might state, “That could be me!” With so many films that cover the same events, it’s often the actors like Sarah Coomes who captivate us and make these films unique. Bye Bye Blue serves to erase any demarcation between “regular” members of society.