Buttwhistle: Film Review

A self-consciously idiosyncratic film that never develops much appeal. 

Trevor Morgan, Elizabeth Rice and Analeigh Tipton co-star in writer-director Tenney Fairchild’s sophomore feature.

Described as a "teen dramedy," but playing more like an oblique, tediously unfunny existential comedy, Buttwhistle proves so cryptically scripted and dramatically under-powered that genre characterizations almost fail to do it justice. Facing almost certain disregard in theatrical release and lacking the wherewithal to justify a $25 DVD price tag, this low-budget indie production will need to settle for whatever it can extract from digital formats.

A synopsis can offer only limited insight regarding the film itself, but in brief, the narrative follows the travails of Minneapolis community college student Ogden Confer (Trevor Morgan), who descends into mild depression after the death of his girlfriend Rose (Analeigh Tipton). The attempted suicide of an enigmatic young woman forces him into action however, when Ogden (aka Buttwhistle) manages to save Beth (Elizabeth Rice) from a life-threatening fall. Her response is to offer him sexual favors in repayment, but he declines, instead inexplicably inviting her back to his home to meet his parents for dinner, although he’s completely unfamiliar with her background.

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The daughter of an office worker whose head explodes during the film's opening scene (for no particular reason, apparently), Beth is trying to avoid the authorities investigating her father's death and so gladly accepts Ogden's offer, moving into the basement after charming his parents with a bogus display of gratitude. She quickly grows bored with the situation however, as well as Ogden's repeated rejections, and resolves to make his life hell in retribution for foiling her suicide. Her various pranks and acts of vandalism result in a couple of cryptic cops (Thomas Jane, Griffin Newman) paying Ogden a visit, but they’re unable to file any charges against him -- not until they get more evidence anyway.

Despite fielding a cast with credits that are fairly credible if considered collectively, writer-director Tenney Fairchild spends most of the film's running time out in the weeds trying to find his story. He can't rely on Morgan to carry the narrative, because even as the lead, his part is too slight and the performance far too laidback to build notable tension. Rice's role attempts to provoke, but the stakes are so vague as to lack interest. If only her former-girlfriend character were more central, Tipton might have made it count. It doesn’t help that much of the cast is  forced to indulge in repetitive, idiomatic statements that consistently miss the mark, or in Jane's case, end up so short-changed on dialogue as to become almost irrelevant.

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Fairchild's filmmaking goes astray from the very first reel, failing to adequately define either his characters or their situations and motivations. Inconsistent stylistic markers distinguishing flashback and fantasy scenes from contemporaneous footage muddle the timeline and diminish the impact of the nominal plot developments. Otherwise, this unremarkable digital production lacks any real distinctiveness overall.

Improbably, three tunes by British blues-rock guitarist Robin Trower turn up in the film, along with a range of uptempo hard-rock selections that could potentially make the Buttwhistle soundtrack better-suited to release than the DVD.

Opens: April 25 (Breaking Glass Pictures)

Production company: M-80 Films

Cast: Trevor Morgan, Elizabeth Rice, Analeigh Tipton, Adhir Kalyan, Stella Maeve, Katherine LaNasa, Patti McCormack, Wallace Langham, Thomas Jane, Griffin Newman

Director-writer: Tenney Fairchild

Producers: Greg McCollum, Michael Younesi, Leah Fong, Tenney Fairchild

Executive producer: Daniel Dubiecki

Director of photography:Akis Konstantakopoulos

Costume designer: Julieta Tapia

Editors: Nathan Cali, Hovig Menakian

Not Rated R, 93 minutes