Bad dreams and bad behaviour go hand in hand in Butterflies of Bill Baker, a modest indie film about a handsome classic car salesman struggling to a get a decent night’s sleep. It is a confusingly jaunty tale of identity crisis, insomnia and adoption, set in the idyllic suburbs of upstate New York.
Writer and director Sania Jhankar has taken the Swiss Army knife approach to filmmaking, sending the affable and nature loving, forty-something Bill Baker, on a filmic odyssey. First up, it’s a slice of Don’t Look Now that permeates Bill’s opening nightmare, hinting at a water-related tragedy, which ended his happy marriage. Next, it’s a dash of American Beauty as a disaffected Bill jogs through life, failing to connect with the suburbanites around him. Finally, it’s a pinch of Kramer vs. Kramer as Bill, bordering on a mental breakdown, is paired up with a pre-teen, by a pushy soccer mom, hoping to land the town’s most eligible bachelor.
At times this blending of genres leaves the lingering question: “If a butterfly flaps its wings will this story ever make sense?” But it is hard to fault Jhankar’s ambition at trying to wrangle these twisting plot lines into a coherent narrative, which is ever so neatly tied up by Bill’s off-grid locum, who has an accent thicker than wallpaper paste.
Will Chase is given a real acting workout playing the fractured Bill, committing to the slightly creaky dialogue with an air of true professionalism. And the rest of the cast gamely throws themselves into each new twist and turn, with a surprising amount of consistency.
It is hard to shake off the feeling that this is an NYU film grad’s thesis project blown up to a grander scale. There are moments that sparkle like Bill dismissing a finicky customer by pouring too much milk into his coffee. And others that fall woefully flat like Bill’s reconciliation with his ex-wife. Sadly, the see-sawing tone and spaghetti junction of plots undercuts the film’s dramatic momentum, and by the final frame it feels more moth-like than majestic butterfly.