Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Fantasia/New York Asian Film Festivals 2021.05: Giving Birth to a Butterfly

Short day, and not necessarily because I was daydreaming about the possibility of going up to Montreal for the film in the festival's lineup that I most wanted to see, Septet, which apparently was only screening once, in person at the Imperial. Hopefully it will play elsewhere. Anyway, this was the only movie with an embargo date of Monday, which is roughly what I'm using for scheduling.

At any rate, I took a little extra time to let this one turn over, so this is where I start to fall behind. It's good enough to run long on despite being pretty short itself. I'm always a little surprised when something like this has its World Premiere at Fantasia, because it seems like the sort of thing that might get grabbed by a non-genre festival during the Sundance/SXSW/IFFBoston/Tribeca period, although the "Fantasia Underground" section is a nice fit for it. It's streaming time was 9:15pm, and I suspect that's when we'd get into de Seve for it with an intimate Justine-hosted Q&A at the end.

Now that I think about it, a Septet/Giving Birth night with me running underneath Maisonneuve between would have been one of the best nights of Fantasia ever. Get your shots, folks, so that we can do something like that next year.

Giving Birth to a Butterfly

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 9 August 2021 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia 2021, Front72)

Theodore Scaefer's Giving Birth to a Butterfly is an intriguingly odd duck of a movie, with a 16mm aesthetic that recalls old home movies despite its modern concerns, and a cast of characters you could drop into a sitcom except for the ones that are in the midst of existential crises. It is a bunch of combinations that seem like they shouldn't work even before they start to wander into stranger territory, but it nevertheless leaves one even more anxious to unpack what's going on.

Things are a little bit tight in the Dyer household, with mother Diana (Annie Parisse) sewing costumes for a community theater production and mulling over how she could add something like that to the rotation as internet gig work she does on top of her job at the drugstore while husband Daryl (Paul Sparks) talks about opening a restaurant. Teenage daughter Danielle (Rachel Resheff) is working on the same production in lighting, while her older brother Andrew (Owen Campbell) is introducing the family to his girlfriend Marlene (Gus Birney) - pregnant, but by someone else. Diana is reasonably alarmed, while Daryl is almost obliviously supportive of this situation. Diana is so used to being the glue of the family that when she discovers an identity theft has drained their bank account (under the guise of "Janus Identity Protection" software), she enlists Marlene to help her confront those responsible. But what they find when following that path…

Not that things are necessarily sensible in their small New York town; although sometimes the sense of how things are off is a little harder to put one's finger on, especially for the people of Diana's generation. Marlene's mother Monica (Constance Shulman) is completely, obviously delusional - a one-time actress who lost her best shot at fame when a movie set to shoot in this town didn't happen, she is constantly anticipating her comeback and seems unable to acknowledge Marlene's pregnancy, choosing to believe she's the star of the community theater production. Daryl imagines himself a chef, dressing the part at every opportunity, but everyone avoids saying too much about his home cooking. His comments about his employers aren't quite racist, but he also can't understand why they are the bosses and he is the employee. They're of a generation when many were raised to believe that their dreams not just could come true, but would, and literally can't handle it.

Their kids don't seem to have the same sort of delusions. The Dyers reflect their parents to some extent, Owen Campbell's Drew isn't that much brighter than Paul Sparks's Daryl, but Drew's not a selfish the way Daryl is and obviously has a big heart. They're both broad, simple characters, but one feels affection for Drew; his simple nature doesn't deny anything or treat others poorly. Rachel Resheff is perhaps the most underused member of the cast; Danielle is funny and practical without being particularly wiser than her years, finding what she likes and learning about it, although one worries about her in the scenes where Resheff is playing against one of the men in the cast - she's halfway onto her father's selfishness, but there's signs she might shrink from asserting herself as she's literally shining light on others.

Full review at eFilmCritic

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