DIR/WRI: Remy Bennett, Émilie Richard-Froozan • PRO: Emma Comley, Sadie Frost • DOP: Ryan Foregger • ED: Vanessa Roworth • DES: Akin McKenzie • MUS: Will Bates • CAST: Remy Bennett, Evan Louison, Pauly Lingerfelt.
Billed as a “psycho-sexual romance”, Remy Bennett and Émilie Richard-Froozen’s debut feature, Buttercup Bill never quite delivers on that promise – unless one counts a lengthy close-up of a phallic tree branch as the summit of symbolic sophistication. The film’s loose narrative involves Pernilla (Bennett) and Patrick (Evan Louison), lifelong friends who reunite in the wake of the suicide of a childhood playmate. Fairly swiftly, Pernilla and Patrick are engaged in some rather familiar erotic gamesmanship – often involving third parties. The question of why Pernilla and Patrick relate to each other in this fashion is intended as the film’s lure – although the mystery will hold the attention of few, and its solution will surprise absolutely nobody.
The film Buttercup Bill most closely resembles is Lost River (2014), Ryan Gosling’s garbled but not uninteresting directorial debut. Mercifully, Buttercup Bill’s low budget precludes the sheer self-indulgence of Lost River, but like Gosling’s film, Bennett and Richard-Froozen’s is less a fully formed feature than it is a curation of reference points – among which Terence Malick and David Lynch loom largest. Like Malick’s films, Buttercup Bill counterpoints the assumed interior life of its characters with a richly textured conjuring of their physical environment – beautifully captured here by cinematographer Ryan Foregger. Vanessa Roworth’s fine editing also feels intuitive more than linear, another echo of Malick – particularly in the later stages of his career. Lynch, the most compelling surface stylist of recent American cinema, is plundered for repeated – and incongruous – images of vampish chanteuses, and for the formal presentation of disquieting objects. A telephone booth in an overgrown expanse, for instance, takes on the character of Blue Velevet’s severed ear. Much of the borrowing is fairly blunt, and to no particular end – an early scene of a bleary-eyed Bennett answering a telephone cribs directly from Sheryl Lee’s performance in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992). While Malick and Lynch are both fine directors, their influence on American independent film culture is now so pervasive that the homages of younger filmmakers seem dispiritingly unimaginative.
Furthermore, while Gosling’s posturing was almost mitigated by an affecting turn from Christina Hendricks, Buttercup Bill stumbles with its leads. The controlled mise-en-scene suggests Bennett may have a compelling directorial career ahead of her, but her central performance is enervating – not least because of a vocal affectation that makes about half her lines unintelligible. As Patrick, Louison certainly captures his preening character’s juvenile narcissism, but leaves viewers none the wiser as to why he exerts such a magnetic pull for the film’s female characters. Of the supporting cast, the elaborately tattooed Pauly Lingerfelt is certainly a striking physical presence, while the exotically named Reverend Goat gives the film a momentary shot of energy with his wild-eyed (and very Lynchian) cameo as a preacher. A rich collection of soundtrack songs goes some way to giving interest to the film’s many longueurs – although the final selection is rather on-the-nose.