Actress Alia Shawkat has been quietly building one of the most interesting careers around, from television (“Arrested Development”) to independent films, finding a unique, almost auteurist groove in her work. With her newest film, “Duck Butter,” in which she stars, she makes her screenwriting debut, co-writing the script with director Miguel Arteta. The result is a revelation: a candid, smart and sexy dissection of a relationship, set against the Los Angeles landscape, that feels like an instant classic.
Shawkat plays Naima, an actress too serious for her own good. She talks too much about global warming and wakes up with her fists clenched. Frankly, she’s a buzzkill. After clashing with the Duplass brothers (playing themselves) on a film set, she heads to a lesbian bar, where she meets the enchanting Sergio (Laia Costa). She is everything Nima is not: free-spirited, self-possessed and bold, and the two tumble into a lost weekend. They decide, as an experiment, to stay up for 24 hours, getting to know each other, with sex every hour.
This is a relationship on fast-forward, and as erotic and fun as it seems initially, the complications come like clockwork: misunderstanding, neediness, jealousy and meeting the parents. The dreamy scene slowly descends into a nightmare.
Shawkat’s writerly voice in “Duck Butter” is deeply personal and probing. The film is funny and honest and Arteta, working with cinematographer Hillary Spera, balances the intimate material with a light, airy sensuality. Shawkat and Costa each give intensely powerful performances, and together they are magnetic. Costa is riveting as she unravels Sergio’s tightly wound psychology hidden beneath her carefree and seductive persona.
“Duck Butter” is romantic, but it’s not a romance. Rather, it’s a truly fresh and modern relationship movie, a portrait of two women who collide, spectacularly, for a moment in time.
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Playing: Laemmle NoHo 7, North Hollywood