The one night stand has a rich history in independent filmmaking. But whereas most of those films preoccupy themselves with the drama of one roll in the hay, the lovers in Duck Butter have more elaborate and exhaustive plan. A twenty-four hour lock-in relationship with sex every hour on the hour. The result is a compelling look at modern love in microcosm, and while some of its ideas regarding 21st century romance may be reductive, the film’s take on self-actualization through romance feels much more poignant and much more universal.
Alia Shawcat (Arrested Development) stars as Naima, a young actress trying to the jump from commercials to films. Naimi scores her first indie role in a Duplass Brothers film, but when the Duplasses, playing spectacularly obnoxious versions of themselves, don’t take to her, she soon finds herself out of a job and on the verge of a breakdown. This sends her into the arms of Laia (Laia Costa), a singer she met the night before, and the two decide to distill an entire relationship into a single day, all while having lots and lots of sex.
The intimate cast and minimalist construction of Duck Butter put it firmly in the Duplass Brothers’s wheelhouse. The Duplass’s production style is not always a recipe for success, but it seems to suit director and co-writer Miguel Arteta (Youth in Revolt), who makes the most of the film’s limited canvas. He benefits from two spectacular performances from Shawcat and Costa who elevate their roles above the boilerplate archetypes they easily could have become. Shawcat’s Naimi is a millennial nihilist with a grudge against her parents generation while Costa’s Laia is part artist, part manic pixie dream girl. At first glance it feels like the film is a recipe for redundant disaster, but the script by Shawcat and Arteta crucially understands that the self-reflexive is the new cliché and treats its subjects with a refreshing lack of irony.
It’s easy to see the raunchy sex comedy Duck Butter could have been, especially given the film’s name. If you aren’t aware of the phrase’s meaning, you can consult Urban Dictionary. For a film about a 24-hour sex marathon, the sex is almost incidental compared to the emotional baggage of Naimi’s and Laia’s experiment. There’s something incredibly prescient about young people attempting to condense a relationship into a single day. Laia and Naimi are seeking to discover a shortcut to love, one that’s uninhibited and completely honest. But it soon becomes apparent that their perspectives on love are still deeply rooted in their upbringings and will not be able to be honest with each other if they are not honest with themselves. It’s a film about emotional discovery, not sexual discovery – even if Laia and Naimi do end up living out a romance’s sexual timeline in a day with Naimi remarking near the end that they’ve gone nearly two and a half hours without having sex.
Duck Butter is the rare sex comedy that occasionally finds itself so wrapped up in its own ideas that it forgets to be a sex comedy. Even at a crisp 93 minutes there is a definitive lull in the film and it struggles in the third act. Thankfully things liven up a bit once the two agree to an ill-fated orgy in an attempt to spice things up. There’s nothing quite like an ill-fated orgy to drive a film home.
Verdict: 3 out of 5
There’s a timeless quality to Duck Butter and yet the film feels very much of today, and not just because it centers on a lesbian relationship – it’s a refreshing non-issue for the film. Rather, it seems a very modern notion to attempt to kick start intimacy, like discovering some kind of romantic life hack. The film asks us to neither congratulate Naimi and Laia for the purity of their intentions nor mock them for their naivety. Duck Butter is bound to disappoint some expecting a raunchier, more comedic film. But for those with a bit of patience, Duck Butter may prove to be a surprisingly thought provoking watch.