Giving Birth To A Butterfly
Dir. Theodore Schaefer (2021)
A woman and her son's pregnant girlfriend go on a road trip to correct a financial error and find more than they bargained for.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
The pursuit of self, or one's true self, can become an all-encompassing obsession, one that threatens to corrode familial relations and perhaps even our entire way of life. Giving Birth To A Butterfly, the debut film from Theodore Schaefer, explores these themes through the lens of a family woman who has made a financial mistake that so many can relate to: she's fallen victim to a scammer and finds her bank account empty. She decides to take to the road and try to resolve the problem herself, bringing along her son's pregnant girlfriend (for some reason), and together they seek to find the business that has her money and recoup what she's lost. Along the way, philosophies are explored and boundaries are tested, often including the resolve of the audience itself as to how deep they're willing to look into an arthouse film.
The film is made competently enough. Schaefer has an indie flare, delivering a film with washed-out, almost sepia-tone visuals and a rounded framing device that makes it feel like an old home movie more than a modern film. The acting is actually pretty stellar, with leads Annie Parisse (National Treasure) and Gus Birney (Netflix's Shining Vale) playing the mother and girlfriend respectively. The plot makes sense, for sure, but it also meanders amongst existential questions that are never really answered and a pretension that all-too-often comes from first-time directors working with their own budget with a lifetime of ideas to throw at their first film.
That's not to say that the film is not worth its salt. There's a lot to love here, and there are some really meaningful takeaways from all of the philosophizing that is done. It's perhaps a bit too overwrought, every scene dripping with metaphor and symbolization. It's light-hearted, but not enough, making the film feel more like an assignment to watch than something to intrigue and mystify the audience. It's also really fucking creepy at times, especially once the pair reach their destination and come across a bizarre world that seems as if it was lifted straight from a David Lynch movie.
Schaefer has the bones here. He lacks a bit of direction (no pun intended), but he also clearly has some chops that, with a little refinement, could very well deliver him a promising career. While this one wasn't particularly my cup of tea, it will hit the sweet spot for people who like weird, dramatic indie films and are looking for the new frontier of indie filmmakers. Don't expect any horror, though there are certainly some unnerving parts of the film.
Who this movie is for: Indie arthouse fans, Bizarre movie lovers, Scammers
Bottom line: Dry humor and unnerving eccentricity highlight this indie drama about the roles within a family and their fit into a desired life. Director Theodore Schaefer has some talent behind the lens, and the actors from top to bottom do a great job with what they have to work with. It's slow, interesting, and with more philosophical meandering than a college freshman home for winter break. If you like your indie films with a fantasy surreality and an intriguing framework, this one very well could be for you.