By Tim Cogshell
The first insight of debuting feature film director Liz Manashil is that romantic comedies should actually be funny first and romantic second – if ever. Her film Bread and Butter eventually works its way to a kind of awkward romanticism, but it’s always dryly funny; its silliness deftly masked by all manner of understatement and managed execution.
The second insight of the screenwriter-director was to populate her funny romance with the kind of people you almost never see in romantic comedies; which is to say people who look like people you might know, who have friends you might have, and who deal with issues less explored and probably more common than we tend to talk about, including social and other anxieties, as well as late life virginity. “Late” being a relative term, of course.
Amelia (Christine Weatherup) is a young woman of about 30 or so and she’s a virgin; however, she masturbates so often that technically that label may not be applicable. She also doesn’t drive, which in L.A. is worse than being a virgin – and makes life way harder. In any case, Amelia would like to get a driver’s license, a boyfriend, a double-bed, and do it – not necessarily in that order.
In the most unlikely of circumstances she finds herself with two likely candidates, each much more addled by social anxiety issues than even her. Still, Amelia is suddenly a girl with prospects and a choice.
On the one hand there’s Leonard (Micah Hauptman, In Stereo), a bit of a romantic who leaves little notes of affirmation in a book Amelia comes by. She tracks him down and they begin a thing. Leonard is sexy and edgy and exciting, and he’s is a real freak-bag of issues and mixed messages that Amelia must learn to navigate.
On the other hand there’s Daniel (Bobby Moynihan of SNL fame), who while being neither romantic nor sexy nor edgy nor exciting, does have less extreme issues than Leonard and is at least seeing a therapist to sort them out. Of course, his therapist – for whom Amelia works – is actually a self-help guru pretending to be a licensed therapist; which may or may not be inappropriate and/or illegal. Still, he’s trying.
It’s quite a dilemma for a girl with 30 years of pent-up sexual frustration and zero experience in relationships beyond watching that of her best friend (played affably by Lauren Lapkus) and her parents (Dawn Didawick and Harry Groener), who may be the source of her problems.
Since she can’t drive (and therefore engage in road-rage), masturbation is really her only outlet. Did I mention Amelia masturbates a lot in Bread and Butter – which is great for a number of reasons, the most important of which being you don’t see a lot of female masturbation in mainstream movies.
Usually, it’s some boy who’s having-it-on with himself in goofy comedies of one sort or another, and we are left to assume that ladies don’t do that sort of thing. Well they do – and kudos to Ms. Manashil for noting the fact, one that most boy directors miss, probably because they spend too much time diddling themselves.
Additional kudos to the music provided by Jonathon Fessenden and Linus Lau, which is light and earnest but never grating; and to cinematographer Katie Walker, who lets her camera capture the events, rather than create them.
Bread and Butter is a nice debut that refreshes the genre with an interesting point of view, professional execution, and a girly sensibility that most women and brighter boys will appreciate.
Bread and Butter (2015). Dir. and Scr.: Liz Manashil. Cast: Christine Weatherup. Bobby Moynihan. Micah Hauptman. Eric Lange. Lauren Lapkus. Dawn Didawick. Harry Groener. Sean Wright. Bill Watterson.