(Social Butterfly world premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and has subsequently screened at too many fests to name. Next up is its inclusion in Sundance’s first ever NEXT WEEKEND in Los Angeles. Visit the film’s official website to learn more.)
Lauren Wolkstein’s Social Butterfly opens with a pretty blonde woman in a blue dress casually strolling down a driveway and landing smack dab in the middle of a house party in France. We quickly learn two things: 1) she is an American, and 2) she must not have gotten the invite that said everyone was supposed to wear white. As this guest hurriedly escapes into an empty bedroom in order to straighten out her color coordination situation, we learn two more things: 1) she didn’t get an invite period, and 2) she came here with a more devious purpose than simply crashing this party. From the very beginning of this provocative, mysterious affair, Wolkstein exhibits complete and total directorial control. While Social Butterfly transitions from frisky humor to unexpectedly sensual drama in only 13 minutes, there remains a heavier and more ominous overcurrent of longing and sadness throughout.
That blonde American is played by Anna Margaret Hollyman, who, let’s face it, is as fine a young actress as this country has got going right now. Hollyman carried the low-budget 2011 drama Small, Beautifully Moving Parts with assurance, but her mesmerizing presence in this short, combined with her emotionally complex turn in Zach Clark’s White Reindeer, has me shaking my head every time I read one of those “breakout performers” articles and Hollyman’s not on it. Really, folks. It’s time to wake up.
It turns out this party is a birthday celebration for someone named Chloe, who the party attendees have been pestering to finally get deflowered now that she’s 18. When Hollyman’s character—fittingly, perhaps, her name is never revealed—is pressed as to who she is and what she’s doing at the party, she responds that she’s Chloe’s cousin. When she decides that this party has served its purpose, she tries to leave, but she’s confronted by a pretty young girl (Camille Claris), who is smoking away from the pack. This girl is amused by the American’s explanation that she’s a distant relation of Chloe, and takes her by the hand to track down the birthday girl. They head back inside, returning to the bedroom where our party crasher first landed, as things take a turn for the surprisingly intense.
Wolkstein and cinematographer Clémence Thurninger perform a slick trick of choreography by nimbly weaving this party’s seemingly disparate figures together by using a handheld camera and exploiting foregrounds and backgrounds; yet when things get intimate in Chloe’s bedroom, all that’s left is these two women making a brief but unexpectedly personal connection (this film isn’t technically graphic, but it nonetheless gets steamy). Later, when these star-crossed strangers find themselves at the bottom of the pool thanks to Chloe’s immature, drunken friends, that connection is both deepened and broken. The ruse is officially up.
Like a great short story, Social Butterfly transports viewers into a fully realized world in a condensed span of time. It creates a mood and sets a tone that lingers. But perhaps best of all, it asks as many questions as it answers. Wolkstein could keep making shorts into the distant future and that would be a very good thing, but it’s hard not to imagine what she’ll do at the helm of a feature. Her future looks very bright indeed.
— Michael Tully
***WATCH THE TRAILER***