Bread and Butter, the romantic comedy Liz Manashil brought to the CIFF, gives platform to Amelia (Christine Weatherup), the 30-year old virgin, whose safe universe exists in books. Whether at home, on a park bench or at a strange man’s house, the book to Amelia is what the blanket is to Linus: a symbol of protection in an otherwise scary world.
We meet Amelia and her carefully curated support group: the well-meaning parents Donald and Sylvia, (Harry Groener, Dawn Didawick), the bestie Deirdre (Lauren Lapkus) and bestie’s boyfriend Riley (Sean Wright) and Amelia’s Life Coach boss Dr. Wellburn (Eric Lange). They all root for Amelia: to get a boyfriend, to learn to drive, to be more confident in her work.
Her first suitor, Daniel (Bobby Moynihan), is her boss’s patient. Nerdy and sweet, he genuinely likes Amelia. Under the encouragement of Dr. Wellburn, Daniel asks Amelia on a date and after some trepidation, she reluctantly agrees. Meanwhile, she discovers a new book, with notes in margins, and takes it as a sign: she must meet the man writing these cryptic notes because she feels he’s calling for her and it’s meant to be because, well, books. So she finds the mystery guy, the attractive and unpredictable Leonard (Micah Hauptman). And begins seeing him, too.
Each man offers her something the other can’t. One is stable and grounded. The other unpredictable and emotionally volatile. One has a job and an apartment. The other is more of a gypsy soul. One is the guy who will show up when he says he will. The other is the guy who doesn’t show up when he’s supposed to and instead does show up unplanned. Because he’s mysterious. And mystery is sexy. And like so many of us before her, Amelia thinks that she is the one magic woman who can help/fix/rescue/save the man in need.
Really, she just needs to fix herself.
To the viewer, the choice is obvious. But it’s too easy to judge Amelia for her choices and her passions. At 30, she’s experiencing some of the dating firsts that most of us did while in college or in our early 20’s. What woman, or man, for that matter, who wasn’t lucky enough to find the love of her life at 25 and stay together till the end hasn’t at one point followed her heart and, bottom line, made the wrong choice? And, really, does Amelia even have to make a choice? And if she does, is it simply between choosing one of the two men, or is there a completely different option? As her bestie wisely reminds her, grass is grass, regardless of color.
The film never judges anyone. It just shows humanity for what it is: flawed, broken and uncertain, with stolen moments of joy and goodness.
The actors do a great job of keeping what could otherwise be a heavy story quite light. And funny. Weatherup carries the film gracefully. She makes Amelia relatable: we’ve all known one or we’ve been one. Lange has the best dialog in the film and brings the comic relief with a certain absurdity that Kramer did on Seinfeld: the court jester that, often, communicates the truth of any situation. The music in the film is quite, good, too.
Having spent most of my book writing life in the relationship space, I’m often curious how others tell their story. Every honest auteur will include a piece of her DNA in her work. It’s just what we do. And this film is a labor of love for Manashil: she wrote it, directed it and cast her boyfriend in it. She’s now traveling the festival circuit, showing Bread and Butter and its universal message to different audiences.
There’s a nice technique in the film involving two cars: a toy one and a real one. To have used a model plane would have been too obvious. The metaphor is clear. Will our Amelia take flight? And where will her heart land?
I’m grateful I saw Bread and Butter – intentionally the only romance I watched at the CIFF – and that I got to meet Liz as well as Kristine and Sean. Not only is Liz a good storyteller, she’s also the former film student of Tom Miller, whom I had just interviewed for his CIFF documentary Limited Partnership. In some ways the teacher and student thread was evident.
Love is love. And we all want it.