If you ever get into “a Butler Brothers Brew” (that’s what brothers Jason and Brett appropriately call their films, because you can never be sure of what you’re going to see, but it’s going to go down smooth), be prepared to laugh and also possibly be worried at how much you might relate to the personalities they present.
With “Confusions of an Unmarried Couple” (a title to cause near-raucous laughter, as if married life would be simpler), the Butlers give us Dan (writer/director Brett) and Lisa (Naomi Johnson). They have problems, just like you! One day, Dan walked into the bedroom to find Lisa getting heavy with another girl, between her legs, and he simply turned around and walked out. Heading to his brother’s house, Dan left Lisa to wallow in misery and guilt for a good long time (never mind that Dan was with two women two weeks before he decided to propose to Lisa).
It’s never made clear why there’s a camera focused on Dan and Lisa as they separately dissect the remnants of their relationship, but no matter. It could be a mutual friend studying to be a psychiatrist, wondering what brought them together and what actually drove them apart. Or it could be Dan’s brother (for his segments anyway, as the sibling is referred to briefly when Dan is not pleased with a camera hovering over his face), who wants the interviews to be a record of where Dan went wrong. It’s fun to consider, as we hear their views on sex, on each other’s quirks, and especially why Lisa would never get involved in a threesome with Dan. Just know that there’s a lot of insecurity firmly planted within both parties.
“Confusions” revs up its speed and strength when the two are together, hashing out what went wrong between them, and Lisa wondering how Dan could even think of wanting to get back together with him after what she did to him (though watching Dan play a game of one-upmanship with her, you wonder why she would still have him there). There are instances when we may want to see him forcibly ejected, but Lisa hangs on. It’s to our benefit, because Brett Butler and Naomi Johnson are astonishing together. Where we’ve seen considerable sparks between various movie couples from what Hollywood puts out, there’s a steady stream of smoke and then napalm between them in various scenes. The Butlers, and Johnson, are very successful in making us believe that this couple has been together long enough to get to this stage. Johnson is particularly powerful in a few scenes, with her soul right out there for Dan to see and know what he did to her, but what she’s also been going through. She’s also beautiful in an atypical non-Hollywood-polished fashion, with a face that exudes intelligence and substance, so we can easily see why Dan fell for her and wanted her in the first place.
“Confusions of an Unmarried Couple” is also a fine tool for screenwriters looking to make their work known. Brett Butler’s script gives Dan and Lisa a vocabulary that presents them as reasonably well-educated, but makes sure that any jokes or flashes of wit happen naturally, such as the best spit-take I’ve seen in years. There’s no setup for it. It just happens unexpectedly. It’s an important lesson just by listening to the conversations between Dan and Lisa that you can reach for stylized dialogue if you want, and you can try to make your characters bigger than the sky, but sometimes, just our common language works best. After all, it’s how we operate every day.
The major question throughout is not whether Dan and Lisa might get back together, but how they’ve managed to be together all this time. This is the kind of film to inspire tons of discussions, and trust me, it will be debated amongst all who see it, especially those who do so with someone they love, or are ambivalent about, or are just getting to know. On second thought, about the latter, make sure you see this after you’ve gotten to know that someone you like to the point where you’re at least on reasonably steady ground.