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Saturday, May 17, 2014

Film Review: Buttwhistle

Buttwhistle is an odd film about an even odder (even odder? that sounds weird to me) relationship between Ogden and Beth, but actually it’s more about them as individuals and about their singular perspectives on the world.

The film begins with a telemarketer on the phone, telling an obviously unenthusiastic party about a free gift. Then when he takes a bite of his lunch, his head explodes. The film then cuts to a couple in bed, and then quickly to an acrobatic man running along a street, dodging cars, fences and the opening credits. It’s actually a really cool and impressive opening credit sequence.

The man is Ogden (Trevor Morgan), and we learn that he’s still connected to an old flame, whom he often thinks of and speaks with. Pulling him momentarily out of those images is another girl, Beth (Elizabeth Rice), passing him on her way down to her death. Ogden grabs her hand, saving her life. And she then becomes completely involved in his life. She says she owes him, and tries repeatedly to pay him back with sexual favors (which of course he eventually succumbs to – who wouldn’t?). But he at first counters with, “Ten bucks.” It’s interesting how quickly and easily she inserts and entangles herself in Ogden’s life.

When a homeless man comes up to them, saying he hasn’t eaten in two days, Beth responds, “I wish I had your willpower.” Ogden gives him money. That’s a good indication of their characters right there.

The film has an unusual sense of humor. Ogden gives his parents a homemade anniversary card with a five-dollar bill tucked inside. And then as the scene is transitioning to the next scene, we hear Ogden ask, “Hey, Dad, can I borrow five bucks?” A little later, Ogden toys with changing his name to the sound of a horn, and Beth plays along, saying that he had told her that everyone calls him Buttwhistle. What’s great is that Ogden’s parents go along with the joke. It’s like all the characters in this film are part of an improv troupe, accepting each thing that is said and building on it. When his parents suddenly leave on a trip, they blow the horn as they say goodbye to him.

And don't worry: the film doesn't forget about that opening image. On the news periodically we hear that the police are looking for Elizabeth, the daughter of the man whose head exploded. And Beth begins to act weirdly possessive regarding Ogden.

Nothing seems to bother, or even affect, Ogden. Not even when Beth throws away a lot of his clothing to make room for some of her own clothes. Not even when she steals money from him. Not even when she bangs up the car. And, perhaps most shockingly, not when he learns that photos of his old girlfriend are missing. His old girlfriend appears at one point and tells him, “Your problem is that you don’t have a problem.” Perhaps. Or that he refuses to acknowledge the problems he does have. But there is something very appealing, in a way, in Ogden’s outlook. I’d love to be that calm and easy-going.

There is an odd progress to this film. It doesn’t quite flow naturally, but that seems deliberate, to put us more firmly into a sort of disjointed state. Because the reality of this film is a bit at odds with the realities I’ve known in my life so far. At times, it’s delightful, like when Ogden’s parents play along with the horn joke. At other times, it’s more disconcerting, like when Beth becomes acting possessive.

At one point, two detectives arrive at Ogden’s door. Though they appear like very serious individuals, their introduction has a decidedly comedic tone. They first ask to speak with someone who lives two doors down, then ask for the person living next door. And then we see them inside Ogden’s house. I love that the film doesn’t bother showing us them coming up with the right name. We see them get closer, which is perfect. However, the scenes with these two detectives get a little tedious and are not quite believable, even within this odd world of the film. The film doesn’t always work, but it’s basically quite enjoyable, and I appreciate its peculiar take on the world.

By the way, someone covers one of my favorite Syd Barrett tunes on the soundtrack.

Buttwhistle was written and directed by Tenney Fairchild. It is available on Video On Demand, and is scheduled be released on DVD on May 27, 2014.

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