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[Fantasia ’21] ‘Giving Birth to a Butterfly’ review: Road trip movie subverts expectations

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Identity theft can be an exciting part of film. Usually found in thrillers, the victim sees their lives completely destroyed. As they try to regain their past, there is danger and excitement. In real life, it is much less glamorous. There are forms to be filled out, companies to call, and lost money. Making its world premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival, Giving Birth to a Butterfly takes the more grounded route.

In the early moments, the film introduces its characters and sets a tone. Giving Birth to a Butterfly is clearly going to be a character driven tale. The Dents seem like a regular family, but there are obvious cracks. The oblivious patriarch is obsessed with his dream of being a chef, for example. The thoughts of his family – especially his wife – are completely irrelevant. Another character is trapped in a world of imagined fame. Think Norma Desmond without the murder.

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Giving Birth to a Butterfly sets up a typical odd couple road movie. When Diana Dent (Annie Parisse) discovers her identity has been stolen she sets off with her son’s pregnant girlfriend Marlene (Gus Birney) to find the culprits. As the plot continues, they develop a bond. There is not the tension normally found. Along with being surprising, it is a little disappointing as the only way the audience gets to know the characters is through long bits of exposition.

[Fantasia '21] 'Giving Birth to a Butterfly' review: Road trip movie subverts expectations

The film does have some familiar road movie tropes, but it is not derivative. There is a focus on intimacy not normally seen in these types of films. The camera does not move for uncomfortably long periods of time. Giving Birth to a Butterfly seems to want people watching to form a relationship with its characters. It works to an extent, but just as often, it keeps the audience at a distance. 

Giving Birth to a Butterfly will end up frustrating many. The plot has its moments for oddball comedy and interesting characters, but it also seems to get too caught up in its imagery and themes. Many times, the actual story often comes to a halt. The film shines when everything comes together. There is the obvious journey towards self-discovery, but another running theme is names. There is constant search and discussion over what to call people and things. This gives the entire movie a sense of longing and captures the emotional impact the movie seems to be going for.

The Fantasia Film Festival takes place in person and online from August 5 – August 25

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