Duck Butter is billed as a comedy, drama, romance. It’s only one of those things – a drama. It’s about an experimental 24 hours Naima (Alia Shawkat) spent with Sergio (Laia Costa) and how these two damaged women reacted to the intense relationship. There are spoilers ahead.
Sergio (the part was originally written for a man) was singing in a bar. She was a native Catalan speaker, and her English was clear but constructed in unusual ways. She wasn’t a good singer, but she had charisma. She went into the audience and started kissing the women there. Naima was fascinated.
Naima was closed-off, shy, and fond of talking about how terrible everything is. She slept with fists clinched on her chest. She was an aspiring actress. On the night in the bar when she first heard Sergio sing, she and several other women went back to Sergio’s place for drinks after.
There was a definite spark between Naima and Sergio. After everyone else left, Naima and Sergio stayed together. They talked about how you never really know anyone. You can date someone for years and never really know them. They talked about spending 24 hours together. They would be totally honest. They would have sex every hour. At the end of one day, they would know everything about each other.
Sergio wanted to start the 24 hours right then. Sergio was open and enthusiastic. She composed songs, she sang, she painted, she was ready to go.
Naima said she couldn’t do it because she had work. She had a small part in a film by Jay and Mark Duplass. At work, she gave the filmmakers all sorts of notes on how she thought the scene should be and they called to tell her not to come back.
Suddenly jobless, Naima went back to Sergio’s. They started the clock on their 24 hours at 7 PM. They were going to compress a year and a half of getting to know each other into one day.
The sex part of their time together was easy. Only after many hours when exhaustion set in did they fall behind schedule on that. The total honesty was harder, especially for the closed-off Naima. They talked about their childhoods, their mothers. Naima played the piano and they sang together. Naima sounded better than Sergio, who was the singer. They ate. They argued. They probed. They walked the dog. (Naima was scared of the dog.) They fixed breakfast for Sergio’s mother Susana (Angelina Llongueras).
Breakfast with Susana was ghastly. Naima stared in disbelief at Sergio, finally understanding so much about why she clung so tightly to Naima. When Susana left, Sergio fell asleep immediately. Naima lay down next to her. She watched Sergio sleep. They were both at the point where they could almost fall asleep standing up, but they wouldn’t allow each other to sleep for long.
Susana came back. She came into the bedroom. Naima crouched above Sergio, shielding her from her mother. It was the most moving scene in the film to me. That protective gesture from Naima said so much.
As time and exhaustion and the constant togetherness wore on, Naima felt suffocated. She needed to be alone. She needed to breathe. Sergio wanted more sharing, more closeness. Naima suggested something for their final hours together that she thought would drive Sergio away.
But it was Naima who couldn’t go through with her own idea. Finally, Naima sent Sergio away before the time was done.
Duck Butter is firmly on the unique side of the storytelling spectrum. It’s absolutely original.This was not a heartbreaking romance story, despite the way the movie is framed. It’s really Naima’s story. The 24 hour experiment wasn’t a failure, at least for Naima. She was changed. She’d responded to Sergio, even understood her. She was opened up, just a bit. Enough to adopt a dog. Enough to try sleeping with her hands relaxed.
Duck Butter was about love and relationships and sex. It was about looking at yourself, being honest with yourself. It was about trusting your partner. It was about understanding someone else’s pain. It was about facing your own pain. It was firmly on the unique side of the storytelling spectrum. It’s absolutely original.
This wasn’t really a lesbian story. It was a people story. Yes, there were many scenes of sex between women that were realistic and nuanced. It earns bonus points as a positive depiction of lesbian sex. In the 24 hours they spent together, the sex went from early lust through the same stages a sex life would go through in a year and a half relationship.
Probably more important than sex, however, was the constant refrain from Sergio to Naima, “You’re so beautiful.”
The filming was done in 24 hours. Imagine that. Before shooting, the story had gone through 5 years of work. When it came time to film, there was a tight outline of the scenes and goals. The actors improvised all of what happened within that outline. The two main actors, Alia Shawkat and Laia Costa, gave outstanding performances. Their collaboration, trust, and creativity within that 24 hours is apparent in their performances – and on their exhausted faces at the end.
Miguel Arteta directed the film, which he co-wrote with Alia Shawkat. I sincerely hope these two continue to create interesting, unusual, stories like this one.
You can see Duck Butter on Netflix.