Posts Tagged ‘Butterfly Kiss’

It seems like every time I go on t’internet these days, Twitter is aflame with news that some TV sensation or other of yesteryear is making a comeback: last week it was Twin Peaks, at the moment it’s X Files, a Babylon 5 movie is in the works – can a thirtysomething update of Buffy be very far off? I remember the 70s nostalgia boom of the early-to-mid 90s quite well; the prospect of a 90s nostalgia boom just makes me feel dispiritingly old.

I had an oddly similar sensation while watching Michael Winterbottom’s 1995 movie Butterfly Kiss the other day, which was slightly odd given that I’d never seen it before. But some combination of factors means that it just reeks of a particular time and place.


The lead is Amanda Plummer, who at the time was fairly fresh from Pulp Fiction (if there’s a bigger mid-90s zeitgeist touchstone, I can’t think of it). In time-honoured style, the American Plummer has been imported to give some kind of cachet to a modest British film. She plays Eunice, whom I can only describe as a wandering lunatic, following the motorways of Lancashire in pursuit of her (probably non-existent) partner Judith, leaving a trail of slaughtered checkout workers in her wake.

However, for some reason she makes a connection with one of these women, Miriam (Saskia Reeves), and opts not to beat her to death. Attracted to this mysterious stranger, despite the fact she is clearly unhinged, Miriam takes her home and the two of them hook up and set out on a blood-spattered odyssey up and down the M6…

Now, on paper, the names involved in this film suggest it must be interesting – Michael Winterbottom has carved out a niche as one of those wild talents who is always worth following, while the film is written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, who also has something of a reputation (even if that thing he did on telly with the trees and fairies wasn’t much cop). If nothing else, then, Butterfly Kiss shows us that everyone had to start somewhere, because this movie is not especially distinguished in any department.

Having said that, I suppose any lesbian serial killer road movie has a certain degree of originality going for it (there’s a dash of sado-masochism thrown in, too, just in case the movie didn’t seem niche enough already). There is sex and death aplenty, if either of those things are your bag, but apart from them nothing in the film really makes an impression. If the more provocative content is intended to counterpoint the central relationship between Eunice and Miriam, it doesn’t work, mainly because neither character is remotely believeable.

You can’t really blame either actress, both of whom do the best they can with the material. Well – I say that, but I rapidly found Amanda Plummer impossible to take seriously, and actually rather annoying, simply because her accent is literally all over the place: it roams from country to country and region to region throughout the film. Was this an intentional choice or is this simply how English people sound to her? I’ve no idea: apart from this her performance is okay, but then she does rather specialise in playing characters with, shall we say, atypical pathologies.

Saskia Reeves has the benefit of playing a less-outlandish character, but the script demands she behave in a wholly incredible way: Miriam may be sheltered, naive, and just a little bit thick, but that still doesn’t explain why she decides to invite a certifiable loon back to the house she shares with her infirm mother. You could probably argue they are both lost souls drawn together by mutual need, but the script doesn’t sell this idea and it just comes across as melodramatic. I have to say the treatment of Reeves and her mother seems just a little bit patronising to me: they are both working class and poorly educated, and the film treats them primarily as pitiful, victims in the making.

Then again, finding any sort of deeper theme to Butterfly Kiss is challenging: the characters are wont to talk about things like good and evil, God and sin, but not in any really consistent way. It’s all a bit teenage poetry-ish, or perhaps like a very bad episode of Cracker; I may be getting old, but lines of dialogue like ‘It’s never easy to kill someone, especially if you love them’ seem to me to be more trite than profound. The conclusion of the film is, I suspect, intended to be a poignant moment of love and loss – my reaction was more along the lines of ‘one down, one to go’.

To be honest, watching this film I was repeatedly reminded of Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers, and on one level the two films have basically the same plot: serial killer acquires new partner and takes them on quasi-romantic road trip. However, Sightseers is – if you ask me – vastly superior. Not only is it a very effective black comedy, but the characters actually make a bit more sense, too. But much of Butterfly Kiss feels either derivative – some reviews inevitably compare it with Thelma and Louise – or vaguely like other films which have been made since, especially Pawel Pawlikowski’s My Summer of Love, which also focuses on an intense, somewhat twisted relationship between young women from different backgrounds. Mostly it just feels very much of its time, though, partly due to the 90s-tastic soundtrack: Shampoo, Shakespear’s Sister and Bjork all feature, though most prominent are the Cranberries.

In the end I can’t say I enjoyed this film much – it feels like it’s straining too hard to be gritty and provocative, but it just ends up being pretentious and melodramatic. This is one of those slightly strange examples of a film where a lot of people turn up and do something sub-par by any of their standards.


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