The shadow of David Lynch is quite long in the realm of genre filmmaking. His blend of neo noir, road trip, horror, and soap opera is a tough act that many imitate but few duplicate. It’s hard to capture the strangeness he brings to screen without straight up copying his style. However, Theodore Schaefer’s Giving Birth To A Butterfly is a movie that will bring to mind some of Lynch’s work but undoubtedly stands on its own two feet, and in the process of paying homage to Montana’s favorite weirdo gives us something undeniably beautiful and deeply moving.
Giving Birth…is something of a classic road trip film. Annie Parisse plays Diane, a suburban mother who finds out her identity has been stolen and her savings account has been emptied through a scam ironically executed by a company pretending to be an identity protection service. She finds the address of the company and embarks on a journey to get answers from them accompanied by Marlene, her son’s pregnant girlfriend. Along the way, the hopes, dreams, motivations, and fears of the characters are examined, as are the very concepts of identity and self. I don’t to give way too much else, not because it has a ton of twists but more because there’s a lot of really delightful moments that ought to be experienced going in blind.
The film has an admittedly somewhat hokey tone, as in much of the script is delivered in either a deliberately flat or deliberately over the top manner. In a lesser film this would turn the viewer of quickly, but Schaefer instead allows the two main characters to emerge as believable and well crafted and juxtaposes these performances against the rest of the film which plays out like a mediocre soap opera. This juxtaposition lends the film a light surreal quality, and it plays like the kind of mundane dream one has during an afternoon nap in which nothing dreamlike happens but nonetheless feels fantastical simply because it is a dream. And while this sense of surrealness might be the obvious place that a Lynchian influence could be seen, I think the dreary suburban setting of the film is the most Lynchian thing about it.
As the film progresses and we dive deeper and deeper into the almost banal mystery of the identity company, Schaefer slowly injects the film with more and more strangeness. Nothing too over the top, but just enough for the characters themselves to comment on how none of it makes any sense. By all rights it should not work and should come off as pretentious, but instead it ends up being something almost bittersweet and wonderful. Like Wes Anderson but not so unbearably Wes Anderson-y. There’s a lesson in there I’m sure, something I was supposed to learn but didn’t, and that’s okay because even if I wasn’t listening to the teacher explain it to me, I was still able to admire the color of her eyes and how her shirt compliments that color. If that’s too poetic and corny, then it’s perfect for this film. By the end we’re in full blown ‘this…isn’t really happening, is it?’ territory, and that’s fine because it feels like that’s exactly where the film needed to go anyway in order to work.
Giving Birth To A Butterfly is a film that seems to exist simply to exist, to capture a snapshot in the lives of two characters that is glorious in its simplicity. It is a softly beautiful film, melancholy and tender but also almost empty-headedly happy and at just under 80 minutes one of the rare films where it was exactly as long as it needed to be. There was a story to be told, something simple and gorgeous, and it was told and that was it.