Sunday, April 22, 2018

Talking Tribeca: Duck Butter

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.

Duck Butter
Directed by Miguel Arteta
U.S. Narrative Competition

Romance isn’t something that can be forced, at least not in a way that’s truly enduring. In today’s age, many people meet on dating apps where they might message each other back and forth long before they finally meet face-to-face. If two prospective partners are lucky enough to meet in a happenstance way at a bar or event, the likelihood that a one-night stand turns into something substantial may not be all that high. Some may seek to jump-start the process and skip past any initial awkwardness or lack of closeness, but such efforts are sure to have unintentional consequences that may undo the entire dynamic.

Naima (Alia Shawkat) is having a rough day following a less-than-perfect opening shoot for her new role in an independent film. When she meets and locks eyes with aspiring singer Sergio (Laia Costa), she goes home with her. Sergio’s suggestion that they spend twenty-four hours together, having sex every hour and getting to know each other deeply, initially strikes Naima as crazy, but after she leaves and finds out that she has been cut from the film, she returns, begging for a second chance. As they stay up through the night connecting on a level that aims to provide complete honesty and skip over any relationship hurdles, problems with their plan that demonstrate that they are moving way too fast begin to emerge.

The appearance of the Duplass brothers (who also serve as executive producers) and Kumail Nanjiani as themselves in the opening scene suggests a very different kind of film than this is. It attempts to mirror reality in a different way, diving deep into this two-person relationship and how both parties are so intensely attracted to each other that, shortly after meeting for the first time, they are ready to tune out the rest of the world to achieve an unprecedented intimacy. Their night-long marathon is a captivating one which navigates a range of emotions and exposes their true aims that eventually overshadow whatever honesty they claim to project and share.

Shawkat is absolutely the right actress to play this character, having honed characters with unique perspectives on the world and an awkward approach to communication. Spanish actress Costa, a less established personality in America, is a very fitting on-screen companion, one who displays an immense passion for creative expression and at times a frightening energy that overwhelms her every impulse. The film’s title speaks to the sexual nature of its content, which is far from gratuitous but instead meant to truly explore what it looks like for intimacy to be created in a fast-forwarded manner. Co-written by Shawkat and director Miguel Arteta, whose past films have included “Cedar Rapids” and “Youth in Revolt,” this often dreamlike experience is one that’s very memorable and difficult to shake, traversing a vast array of feelings in its characters’ quest for a shared existence.


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