Talking about her latest film, the British release Butterfly Kiss, actress Amanda Plummer said, "It was so unlike the things I do in America--probably films like (this) would not be made in America in the first place."
Well, good, I say--not because Hollywood's limited range should describe the boundaries of cinema, but because the fewer films like the pretentiously bleak and psychologically violent Butterfly Kiss, the better.
Plummer, who stars in the film, has made a career playing women who range from quirky (as Robin William's extremely vulnerable girlfriend in The Fisher King) to emotionally distraught (as a hyper would-be robber in Pulp Fiction) to comically sociopathic (as the homicidal sister in So I Married an Axe Murderer). In Butterfly Kisses, she plays a character who is almost a combination of the three, a lost waif named Eunice who suddenly and frequently explodes into homicidal rages.
As the film begins, she enters a gas station and, in a manic state, tells the clerk that she's looking for a recording of a love song, but she can't recall the title nor the artist. When the clerk directs her to a rack of tapes, Eunice turns abruptly to the clerk and asks her if her name in Judith. It's not, Eunice murders the girl, and makes her way to another gas station, where she repeats the same questions. Here, however, the clerk, Miriam (Saskia Reeves), tries to soothe her and offers to help. Impulsively (Plummer's character is all impulse), Eunice kisses Miriam with passion, and the two go to the home that Miriam shares with her invalid mother. There, Eunice takes over. She delivers a rambling diatribe about sin and punishment, opens her shirt to reveal that her body is draped in chains and covered with bruises, and then takes Miriam to bed.
In the morning, when Miriam wakes, Eunice is gone. Frantic, Miriam hitches a ride until she finds Eunice, and the two set off cross-country in what could be described as "Son of Sam meets Thelma and Louise," as Eunice repeatedly murders a victim and Miriam hides the bodies and tries to change Eunice's evil heart.
There are several significant problems with Butterfly Kiss.
One is that neither Eunice nor Miriam is an interesting character. We never learn enough about their backgrounds to understand how they've come to such a pass. Eunice is just crazy and Miriam is just a malleable accomplice:
Oh, okay, a strange woman comes into my gas station, kills a few people; I've got this drab life at home with just mum and the telly, so I guess I'll go along.
What, we need to know, drives Miriam, a character so sheltered that, even living in England, she's never seen the ocean, to accompany such a repulsive character as Eunice? We never find out, although the film cuts frequently to scenes of Miriam, obviously in a prison interview room, talking about her attraction to Eunice.
At one point, she tries to explain, "Everyone wanted to do the things she did. Everyone wants to break the glass on the fire alarm. Everyone wants to drive away from the garage without paying. Everyone dreams of doing it. The difference is, (Eunice) did it."
But it's not enough; sure, the dialogue reveals that Miriam is as blind to her own motives as she is to Eunice's evil, but it doesn't allow us to go deep enough to understand how such a sheltered woman can make the leap from longing to set off false alarms to murder.
Certainly, there may be people like Eunice and Miriam in life, but a film about characters with no clear motive for what they do--especially something as shocking as serial murder--is, plainly, dull, even with a half dozen killings, a significant amount of nudity, several sex scenes, and overtones of sado-masochism.
Because of this, and particularly because Miriam is such a weak character, Butterfly Kiss just seems to meander toward its violent end.
The other principle flaw is that the makers of Butterfly Kiss try to mask the film's poor story by injecting elements of faith and doubt, good and evil. Eunice keeps talking about herself as evil personified and laments that God has forgotten her. "I've killed people," she says at one point, "and nothing happened to me. God isn't paying any attention to me." For her part, Miriam promises that she'll be able to help Eunice find the good that must be within her, but Eunice counters that she'll turn Miriam to evil before that.
It's not at all fresh, all this God-and-the-Eternal-Silence --Ingmar Bergman (about whom Winterbottom directed two 1988 documentaries) has already covered the ground too well, for one thing, and so the philosophical interludes that come like paid commercial interruptions between the killing just bog down an already tired film.
At one point in her "confession," Miriam says, "I tried not to think about what she did to people. I tried to think about what she did to me."
If only the filmmakers had given a thought to what Butterfly Kiss did to us before they unleashed it on us.
Now there we might have seen a sign of divine influence in the world.
by Joe Schuster
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