Duck Butter Finally Comes to Real America aka Netflix
When I first heard about the new Miguel Arteta film, co-written by Arteta and Alia Shawkat, I was disappointed I wouldn’t be able to see it in theaters during its limited run. It had garnered some buzz at Tribeca earlier this year, and I’m a Shawkat stan from way back, but I waited patiently like a law-abiding citizen for it to debut on Netflix, which it did just a few days ago.
The film stars Shawkat and Laia Costa as two queer women who meet at a club and sleep together. After Costa’s character, Sergio, invites Naima (Shawkat) to spend the next 24 hours together, and to have sex every hour, Naima ultimately demures and goes home. The next day, Naima is fired from an acting gig and reconsiders Sergio’s offer, showing up unannounced at her door to start their day of accelerated intimacy and the self-study they expect will come with it. They resolve not to sleep, to really be together, and to forgo as much privacy as they can in the interest of what might be real love.
Duck Butter cleverly compresses the full scope of your bog-standard late-20s/early-30s relationship. These things often last around 24 months, so to see it play out over 24 hours gives you a neat rubric for tracking the ups and downs of their relationship as they reveal more and more to each other, and Naima confronts her fear of commitment more frankly. By the end of Act Two, when Naima tells Sergio they haven’t had sex in two and a half hours, you feel it as though it were two and a half months of disconnection between them.
These neuroses – and Sergio’s, which I won’t reveal here –reveal themselves slowly and naturally. What I found most compelling is how well lived-in these deficiencies of character are. Although Katie Rife at the A.V. Club argues that the film doesn’t reveal enough about the characters (especially Sergio), I enjoyed the responsibility of filling in those blanks because it more accurately mirrors the position that Naima and Sergio are in. They can ask questions, and they can have sex, but it’s impossible to know the right combination of questions to ask, or right arguments to have, to fully know your partner in 24 hours.
And the mystery behind some of Sergio’s behavior is what took this film to an even more surprising and entertaining place in the final act. Duck Butter dabbles in the suspense and horror genres as the notes of Sergio’s codependence ring ever louder in the love song she and Naima are writing together. This horror motif even plays out (twice) on opposite sides of a bathroom door, much like in The Shining.
And when the shit hits the fan – almost literally –I was nearly as exhausted as Naima and Sergio, but that mournful catharsis didn’t undermine the joy of seeing their love grow, bloom, and wither. After Sergio’s overbearing mother visits, for example, a reeling Sergio curls up in bed where Naima finds her. Sergio’s mother comes back inside to retrieve her iPad and Naima covers Sergio with her body in this childlike gesture of protectiveness that creates the movie’s most beautiful image. That this image comes between the horror-ish bathroom encounters only adds to its impact. The moment, like all relationships, no matter their length, is an island unto itself. We can only guess at its borders, the joys and horrors we might find on its shores.
header image: duplass brother productions