Tuesday 10 July 2018

Winging it: "The Butterfly Tree"

Somewhere inside The Butterfly Tree, an exasperating debut from the Australian writer-director Priscilla Cameron, there's a sensitive, literary study of grief, love and lust readying itself to take flight, but it's been cocooned within a tacky carapace of magic realism that will at best be an acquired taste, and at worst splats the eye with images of excruciating naffness. Cameron's film is set within a household left lopsided by the recent death of its matriarch. College lecturer Al (Ewen Leslie) has attempted to evade his emotional loss via a fling with the most forward of his students, while son Fin (Ed Oxenbould, the rapping child from Shyamalan's The Visit) has built up a shrine to ma in the backyard and a serious insect fetish. Both will fall under the spell of Evelyn (Melissa George), a burlesque artist with an unplaceable, non-Aussie accent and an ever-present set of rollerskates (for it is one of those movies): while pa eyes her up as another putative lay, the lad gets invited inside Evelyn's hothouse to take photos of her boobs, neither party being aware of the other's affections. It's the Bateman-Cera-Isla Fisher farce of recent Arrested Developments, only with even fewer laughs.

While you wait for man and boy to find out and come to blows amid Cameron's tsunami of sixth-form art direction, your responses will be most strongly guided by the film's more outré flourishes: the visions Oxenbould has of computer-generated butterflies sipping water from his belly button, a conversation Al has with his student squeeze (Sophie Lowe) about cock rings, a fantasy in which Evelyn is seen to coax beetles onto her nipples. I'm afraid the film lost this viewer early on, didn't win me back with pillow talk of the calibre of "You can be the baby spider, and you can suckle me", and left me all but swallowing my fist once it turned out Evelyn's fate was to offer the kid his first fondle before succumbing to cancer, the kind of hoarily conservative trope any male writer-director would be nailed to a cross for resorting to in The Year of Our Lord 2018. These ninety-odd minutes retain precisely one moment of recognisable human truth, in describing Al's mounting annoyance with the local council's voice-activated phone system; the rest can be filed under "away with the fairies", with no especially pressing need to chase after it, however big your net.

The Butterfly Tree opens in selected cinemas from Friday. 

No comments:

Post a Comment