For the curious, “Duck Butter” is NSFW. Or at least, it’s not the kind of film title you want to Google from your work computer. Like a naïf (or an old person), I wasn’t familiar with the phrase “Duck Butter,” but figured that I probably wasn’t about to watch a foodie documentary. As its title implies (if you’re cooler than I am), this comedy from Miguel Arteta (“Beatriz at Dinner,” “Chuck & Buck“) is sexy and sexually frank in its depiction of a relationship in fast forward.
After Naima (Alia Shawkat) and Sergio (Laia Costa) meet-cute at a lesbian bar, the women decide to forgo the traditional duration of a courtship, where days separate dates and each would worry about texting back too soon. Instead, they opt for a marathon date – including sex every 60 minutes – to condense the normal getting-to-know-each-other time into just 24 hours. They devote themselves to the concept, battling fatigue, a lack of privacy and newly discovered quirks in their quest to speed up the early stages of a romance.
Produced by Mark and Jay Duplass, the film feels similar to the brothers’ work, with its low-key dialogue and character-based focus. “Duck Butter” is largely plotless, but it’s never aimless in its focus on a whirlwind romance. Naima and Sergio speed through phases of a relationship in their day together, blitzing through milestones like first fights and meeting the parents. Sometimes, it feels like the filmmakers are simply ticking the boxes of relationship stages just because they should, keeping each benchmark from being entirely organic within the romance between Naima and Sergio. Some moments may be uncomfortably familiar to the audience, and others will just make viewers who dislike self-sabotage and confrontation (*raises my hand*) squirm.
Despite having Arteta at the helm, “Duck Butter” never wavers in its female gaze. There’s plenty of sex in this frank comedy, but the camera refuses to leer at either Costa or Shawkat, even in their various stages of undress. With DP Hillary Spera behind the lens, it focuses more on their pleasure than on ours watching them. But that’s not to say that “Duck Butter” isn’t sexy; there’s warmth, passion, teasing and tenderness between the women.
As sexually open as it is, the film is also emotionally vulnerable. “Duck Butter” is an intimate, raw picture. The script from Arteta and Shawkat allows us into Naima’s heart, revealing layers for us – and Sergio – to discover. Having a woman as a co-writer (Shawkat) brings a perspective that may have been lacking if this film about two females, who are surrounded by almost solely women for much of the movie, were written by a man only.
Costa is all wide eyes and quivering lips, relaying each emotion Sergio feels with appropriate abandon for the character. Shawkat has the tougher role as Naima, the more guarded partner of the pair. She gets to be contrasted with Sergio’s openness, and they play off each other well, even if their characters don’t feel like the best match. As the free spirit in the relationship, Sergio is a character we’ve seen before (sometimes to a frustrating degree), but her type is more frequently present in standard, straight romances.
Like its characters, “Duck Butter” is imperfect, but unlike human objects of our affection, it’s attractive despite its flaws rather than because of them. And while its sexiness might make it seem like the ideal date movie, its romantic struggles make this better solo or friends viewing, for the sake of your relationship. [B-]