DUCK BUTTER (Miguel Arteta, 2018)
Tribeca Film Festival: Thursday, April 26, Regal Cinemas Battery Park 11-10, 9:00
Village East Cinema
181-189 Second Ave. at 12th St.
Opens Friday, April 27
The behind-the-scenes story of the making of Duck Butter, having its final world premiere screening at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 26 before opening at the Village East the next day, turns out to be better than the film itself. That doesn’t mean there isn’t lots to appreciate about the too-intimate drama, which chronicles the ups and downs, fears and desires of two women experiencing a full relationship in a twenty-four-hour period. Director Miguel Arteta (Beatriz at Dinner, Chuck & Buck) and actress Alia Shawkat (State of Grace, Arrested Development) initially wrote a script about an eighteen-month relationship between a man and a woman that featured a twenty-four-hour period in which they get to know each other by having sex once every sixty minutes. One friend advised that they instead make the movie just about the twenty-four hours, so they began looking for a male actor to star opposite Shawkat. After coming up empty, they decided that Laia Costa (Bandolera, Victoria), who had already been cast in a smaller role, was right for the part. They stripped the script down to its bare essentials, allowing the two actresses to improvise most of their dialogue as the main section of the film was claustrophobically photographed by Hillary Spera in about twenty-seven hours, giving it a cinéma vérité feel.
After being fired by Mark and Jay Duplass from a show starring characters played by Lindsay Burdge and Kumail Nanjiani, the uptight, overly contemplative Naima (Shawkat) calls the free-spirited Sergio (Costa), a singer she met at a lesbian club. Sergio suggests that they forego the standard dating rituals — “We can skip time!” Sergio declares — and instead spend the next twenty-four hours inside, making love once every hour as they explore who they are and speak only the truth, not playing any romantic games. But what starts out being exciting and sexy soon transforms into something else as they go through in one day what new partners usually go through in years. The film was executive-produced by the Duplass brothers, who portray themselves; Shawkat recently played the bisexual Lila on Transparent, which stars Jay Duplass as Josh Pfefferman. Duck Butter — the title phrase is explained in the film, but you might want to Google it when you’re not at work — also features Hong Chau as Glow and Kate Berlant as Kathy, a lesbian couple who are friends of Naima’s. Costa (who is also an associate producer on the film) and Shawkat (also an executive producer) have a sweet chemistry, but the film is extremely bumpy, jumping around too much as Arteta attempts to squeeze too much into ninety minutes. Some scenes will get you hot, some will make you laugh, but others will make you cringe. The whole experiment is an intriguing idea; perhaps it might have worked better if there were less back story, or more. It ends up being so private at times that you practically have to look away, which is not generally what a filmmaker wants from the audience.