The young adult drama Butterflies…, directed by Kevin Van Stevenson, takes on the ambitious task of telling the stories of eleven high school students dealing with issues in their lives. Writer Ryan McCoy center the action on the end-of-semester Christmas party. The lead character is lonely, isolated Beckett (Sara Catherine Bellamy), whose mother died recently. She is now having suicidal thoughts and feels abandoned by her friends and others. Set in Santa Barbara, CA, the film has a 90201 vibe.
The characters, mostly from well-off families, are far above-average looking, and from the outside, would seem to be leading charmed lives. Yet, despite the trappings of wealth, they are each dealing with terrible emotional challenges. Beckett feels like she’ll be invisible unless she commits suicide, in which case everyone would claim to know her. As the night of the party wears on, more drama unfolds. Anthony (Carter Skyers) is haunted by the death of his brother in Afghanistan. When Azize (Ebin Antony), who is Turkish, shows up to find Beckett, Anthony sees only his Middle Eastern appearance. He attacks him in a rage, accusing him of being a terrorist.
Some of the characters are trying to heal from a break-up. Some just want to get laid. For a high school movie, there’s a lot of sex, and it’s depicted graphically as a warning to anyone expecting an after-school-special kind of teen drama. The themes and acts shown are very adult. As the focus switches to each character in turn, we see the night’s events from a variety of different perspectives. The night may bring tragedy, or it may open new doors to relationships beyond high school.
“…eleven high school students dealing with issues in their lives…“
Throughout Butterflies…, based on the YA novel Party by Tom Leveen, Van Stevenson uses music to great effect. The director has created a film with interesting visuals and striking performances despite the lower budget. Hammering home that the setting is around Christmas time, the Carol of the Bells tune gets a real workout in the soundtrack whenever the action slows a bit. The film’s title comes from a reference one of the characters makes that these people and times are in fast motion and will soon be gone, the same as butterflies.
There are some interesting stylistic choices at play as characters often break the fourth wall. This speeds up exposition, which is crucial with so many protagonists to focus on. The film’s influences are clear, from the style of American Graffiti to Dazed and Confused, and nearly anything by John Hughes. But these teens are much more sophisticated and more f****d up. Cameron Crowe’s non-fiction book Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a good touchpoint comparison.
For an adult viewer, Butterflies… may not evoke the kind of retro-angst of The Breakfast Club. From an older perspective, the characters may be read as narcissistic and overwrought, though perhaps we all were at that age. These are not universal themes being explored but very specific to their place and far more relevant to anyone coming of age now. This is appropriate, as each generation needs its own mythology.
"…each generation needs its own mythology."