In all of cinema, there aren't many filmmakers who would complete a feature-length film and, for whatever reason, scrap the end product and start over. The desire to get films seen, to have the satisfaction of the work resulting in something, often causes us to overlook the fact that some things are better served as educational failures, tucked away on a shelf somewhere far from the public. Some films are better utilized chopped into guitar picks and not all publicity is good publicity. Few artists realize that sometimes you just have to destroy your work before it destroys you.
Fewer still are able to fix it.
Which brings us to Confusions of an Unmarried Couple, the latest brew from the Butler Brothers, two Canadian brothers whose previous efforts include the unseen-by-me Alive and Lubricated (2005) and Bums (2006).
As you may have guessed, this is not their first attempt at Confusions of an Unmarried Couple. The first, shot two years prior on Hi-8, survives as a video diary inter-cut with new footage (shot over one weekend on a Panasonic AG-DVX 100 in 24p for the cost of tapes and, I assume, food). As a result, we see two characters at slightly different ages, as there's no question time has passed between the confessional and the here and now. It's a pretty good unintentional effect, and might even have been a great one with slightly better execution.
The story is this: Dan and Lisa, the titular unmarried couple, find their relationship shattered when Dan discovers Lisa cheating with another woman. Several months later, Dan returns to their apartment to reclaim some of his things. The confessional footage takes place somewhere between the breakup and the rest of the film, which takes place over the course of a few hours. Only the confessional footage is older than that. The characters have aged too much for the timeline to hold up. It's a tiny thing, for sure, and few audience members will even notice, but it's worth mentioning, nonetheless.
The premise is a nice one — simple and direct with echoes of Bergman, and the script is either not quite polished enough or just a little too polished, I'm not quite sure which one. But the film hinges on Butler's performance. Imagine if you will, someone who's a cross between the Hanson brothers from Slap Shot (1977) and Mark Borchardt from American Movie (1999) with black-rimmed glasses, shoulder-length hair, a long goatee, and an orange mesh baseball hat flipped backwards. He speaks excitedly in a thick Canadian accent, rattling off profanities, and operates almost completely by his own single-minded ethos. As an actor, he's serviceable, but as a screen presence, as a character, he's a delight to watch.
Consider his confessional of why cheating with someone so similar to who you're with is pointless, and his list of the types of women he might theoretically like to be with for a change of pace. Clearly this is something he's previously considered in great detail. Or, take the fact that the first item he attempts to take out of the apartment is none other than the mattress, even though Lisa is in the other room. Where the film suffers, where it lags, Butler keeps it going by the sheer force of his charisma. He's easily the best part of the film.
As for the look of the film, it's awfully hard to fault a film shot this quickly, but in a perfect world, we'd lose some of the repetitive set-ups, as at times there's a feeling that visually we're looking at the same scene several times over, just with different words and in different rooms. A bit of variety from the camera could do wonders, but, in a production moving so fast, the need to get the story trumps elaborate visuals, so call it more of a wish than a critique.
Really, though, the important thing is that Confusions of an Unmarried Couple, while far from perfect, is one hell of an enjoyable 73 minutes, and you can't really ask for much more than that.
Starring: Brett Butler and Naomi M. Johnson
Cinematography by: Jason Butler
Written by: Brett Butler
Directed by: Brett Butler and Jason Butler
CAD 500/73 min/Toronto, Canada
Got a film you'd like to submit for the Uber-Indie Project? Go here for details.