Queer cinema is going through an amazing renaissance right now. It’s nearly as huge as the Disney renaissance back in the 90s where there were so many amazing stories told that they stuck with you. Over the past several years we’ve had great films such as “Moonlight”, “Call Me By Your Name”, and just recently “Love, Simon” as prime examples of transcendent entries in the Queer film renaissance. But one major similarity that all of those films have is that they’re all focused on guys. You barely get movies focused on women and their homosexuality. No, I’m not counting international cinema with movies such as “Blue is the Warmest Color” or “Below Her Mouth”, but solely pure American Queer cinema. I think the last one we got was “Carol” which came out in 2015. Now we have “Duck Butter,” a romantic comedy that may be more philosophical than romantic
Since the main focus of this narrative centers on the relationship of two women who don’t know lick about each other, the performances by Alia Shawkat & Laia Costa carry the weight of this premise. “Duck Butter” is one of those movies that takes place over the span of a day with a plot that is a bit hard to buy given this realistic world that it’s set in. But what keeps the viewer invested is the onscreen chemistry between Shawkat and Costa. Their dynamic bounce off each other incredibly well with nearly each intimate scene that they share.
Shawkat’s Naima is a well-developed and mostly relatable character. You are thoroughly invested in Naima with how she perceives the world from the streak of bad luck life dealt her. Granted, some of her bad luck you see coming due to her actions early on, especially when she tells the Duplass brothers how to direct on her first day on set as an extra.
Witnessing how authentically she clicks with Costa’s Sergio from the moment they meet makes for a cute dive into the story. These two are polar opposites where one is an offbeat pessimist and one is a carefree optimist, so when there are scenes of the two discussing different ideologies of life and what it should be, you’re enamored with both of their points of views. The film throws a ton of philosophies of living-in-the-now in your face and albeit some of it is preachy, it hits its mark more often than not.
What Miguel Arteta & Alia Shawkat achieve with their screenplay is the display that relationships, whether short term or long term, can expire. To find a connection with someone is difficult and when you do, it’s sort of an endurance test in which you question how long someone can withstand the other person until they break. If you’ve ever been in a relationship, you can attest to how much of a struggle it can be when one of the prime factors is that a partner got way too attached. Believe me when I say the film starts off as a sweet romantic comedy but, by the time the third act comes, it gradually becomes a thriller. It quickly gets too surreal while building it to an extent that you get fully attached to Naima. As the film progresses, the more you side with Naima and her views where you see how intoxicating a relationship should be even if it’s for a 24-hour duration.
As much as I appreciate the dynamic between Naima and Sergio, which is the meat of the story itself, the majority of “Duck Butter” lacks a narrative structure. For an hour and thirty minute movie, a good forty five minutes follows a rotating pattern that doesn’t let up until the third act kicks in. The way the story is structured is
- Sergio and Naima engaging in enticing conversation which goes in depth with their individual characters.
- A comedic moment that’s romantic, cute, and most of all hilarious.
- And then a graphic sex scene that you can’t get anywhere else other than Netflix (I mean, I know porn exists but for the sake of this joke let’s pretend it doesn’t).
It’s almost as tedious as watching a “Fifty Shades of Grey” film where Ana and Christian go on a vacation, then some stupid shit happens, and then a sex scene happens. Though “Duck Butter” is significantly smarter, more entertaining, and actually has a message about relationships, it does follow a loop that becomes repetitive. When the location changes and the film drops the sex and comedy, it delivers the drama that hits you where it hurts. It eventually digs deep into Naima and Sergio as they get tested on what makes them tick as people.
A very confusing aspect of this movie I couldn’t get over is the world that is set up in where Shawkat plays Naima, who is sarcastically funny like Shawkat herself, while everyone else plays a version of themselves. Actors Lindsay Burdge and Kumail Nanjiani have very minor roles in the movie playing as themselves, yet they’re credited as these other characters while, in the film, they’re addressed as Kumail and Lindsay. One of Naima’s best friends in the film is Mae Whitman who plays a version of herself but she’s credited as someone else. It kind of threw me off for a while but eventually I digressed.
Why create a world where everyone is acting as themselves, but credited as someone else? Naima is an aspiring actress who does roles as an extra and I get that but it’s confusing that she is in this world where real actors exist and she’s playing a version of herself that you usually see in her other roles. It kind of reminded me of “Bojack Horseman” where real celebrities exist in this world and they integrate with anthropomorphic animals which leads into hilarious sequences. Here, it’s kind of confusing but that is just breezed through once the 24 hour pact between Naima and Sergio ensues.
Though the narrative follows a repetitive looping cycle for a while, “Duck Butter” cleverly weaves in a thought-provoking statement on connection and relationships while providing charismatic performances by writer/actress Alia Shawkat and Laia Costa.
Super Scene: “Open the door Sergio”