1995, NR, 88 min. Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Starring Amanda Plummer, Saskia Reeves.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., May 31, 1996
Gee… picture this: Amanda Plummer playing a pathologically whacked-out bundle of raw psychotic energy. What's new here, you ask? Lots. For the first time in her film career, Plummer really owns the movie -- not in the financial sense but, rather, the emotional. In what, essentially, is a two-woman drama, Plummer's habitation of the character of Eunice in Butterfly Kiss is a creation that sears itself permanently into the viewer's consciousness, though it's possible that, ultimately, you may wish the memory to be quite otherwise. Although her work on stage and television is quite extensive and marked her tendency for portraying mentally fragile characters, as a film actor, she is, probably, best recognized as HoneyBunny, the agitated diner patron in Pulp Fiction and as the quirky paramour of the title character in The Fisher King. With Butterfly Kiss, however, she has found challenging precipices from which to leap that most of the rest of us never even knew existed. Hers is a brave performance; here she creates a thoroughly dislikeable life force -- a maddeningly deranged, physically abhorrent, spiritually barren, and criminally insane impersonation of a human being, yet a being (a fallen angel, perhaps?) possessed with a sensitivity that can recognize the shimmering kiss of a butterfly. All we really know about Eunice, the character she plays in this British drama, is that she wanders from roadway gas station to station, badgering each attendant about some ephemeral song in her head and whether the attendant's name is Judith. At one stop, she encounters Miriam (Saskia Reeves), who, though she's not Judith, is willing to be anything the riveting Eunice needs her to be. The meek Miriam takes Eunice home, where the two women become lovers and we receive the first of many eyefuls of precisely what causes the jangling noises emanating from Eunice's person -- a heavy, padlocked chain wrapped around her torso and also attached to her pierced nipples. Eunice and Miriam become “Eu” and “Mi” and take to the road, where Eunice has this nasty habit of murdering random victims and Miriam resolutely adopts the habit of cleaning up after her ill-behaved lover. Miriam thinks she can locate the “good” in her lover; Eunice suffers from some kind of existential trauma in which she believes that God's unresponsiveness to her crimes is proof of His incapacity. The movie provides very few deeper clues regarding the genesis of Eunice's pathology. This lack of psychology and background, at once, exhibits both the movie's daring and its limitations. Explaining Eunice is not what Butterfly Kiss chooses to concern itself with. We, as viewers, find ourselves very concerned with understanding this holy terror with whom we've just spent the last 88 minutes in the dark. And while it may be true that life holds no solid answers, in the artificial realm of the movies we look for worlds that have meaning and make sense.