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Non-Review Review: Butt Boy

Butt Boy is a single joke stretched over one hundred minutes. However, the film is elevated by its sheer and unrelenting commitment.

At its core, Butt Boy is a piece of surrealist comedy. Chip Gutchell is a middle aged man who works a deadend job “in computers” and lives with a wife who seems actively hostile to the idea of intimacy with him. His life is empty and meaningless, until he has a spiritual experience in the middle of a proctology exam. Chip becomes obsessed with placing objects in his butt, indulging those urges whenever he is left unattended. Gradually, those desires grow in intensity with catastrophic results.

It is a naturally absurd set-up, one that simultaneous offers broad riffs on heterosexual masculine anxieties and the escalating horrors of addiction. After several people go missing, alcoholic police officer Russel Fox begins to put the pieces together with no idea about where it might end. Butt Boy is an ultra low budget independent film, and unapologetically so. Everything is hypersaturated, props and locations often seem improvised, and the quality of performance varies wildly from scene-to-scene. More than that, the film is essentially an extended riff on one comedic set-up.

And yet, in spite of all of that, Butt Boy works surprisingly well. The key is the film’s single-minded focus on that single absurd premise, on the image of a man who has developed an anal fixation so strong that he at point tries to consume an entire police car. Butt Boy never flinches. It never breaks eye contact. It never corpses, not matter how far it follows that premise down its various rabbit holes. There is something strangely appealing in that, which suggests a bright future for writer, director and lead actor Tyler Cornack.

Butt Boy plays everything straight. Gutchell’s midlife melancholy is rendered with the earnestness of films like Fight Club or American Beauty, an anonymous officer drone living an unfulfilled life. Similarly, Fox feels like he wandered out of an eighties or nineties serial killer film. “You look like every detective ever,” Gutchell observes of the tired cop. Tyler Rice offers a performance that feels more than slightly indebted to Robert DeNiro, warning his subordinates to conduct careful interviews, “Make it thorough. If they have paid or unpaid parking tickets, I want to know about it.”

For the first hour or so, this very straightforward and earnest homage approach plays as both stilted deadpan juxtaposition and effective narrative framework. Cornack leans on these genre tropes to guide the audience through a story that takes a sharp turn towards the surreal, providing a clear point of comparison between Gutchell’s unrestrained impulses and Fox’s more conventionally understandable masculine addictions – whether for alcohol, for hot sauce, or for violence.

There’s something strangely compelling in the way that Butt Boy refuses to break character despite this surreal premise. The end result is to heighten absolutely everything in the film. Indeed, the funniest sequences in Butt Boy may simply be those driven by exposition, the absurdity of having characters clearly articulate what is literally happening within the film in a very straightforward manner. There is a delightful two-minute sequence in which Fox outlines his theory to his superior, only for his superior to respond in a perfectly reasonable way to the supposition.

This commitment really pays off in the final third of the movie, with Butt Boy effectively following its central ideas to their logical endpoint. Butt Boy doesn’t hesitate when an outlandish idea presents itself, it seizes that idea and commits wholeheartedly. The final half-hour of the film is a delightfully brazen act of narrative escalation, but one that also finds a way to play fairly within the narrative’s internal rules. It is gonzo, but it also makes sense within the world that Cornack has established.

To be fair, there are serious problems with Butt Boy. The most obvious is that the film is over-extended. The premise is basically a single comedy sketch, but padded out to reach the hour-and-forty-minutes runtime. There is a sense in which fifteen to thirty minutes might have been shaved from the film to provide a leaner and more engaging narrative. Butt Boy uses this time to reinforce its central homage to those old-fashioned cop movies, but there’s a certain sense of familiar repetition and lack of novelty to stretches of the second act.

It also goes without saying that Butt Boy is an acquired taste. The film is not intentionally or aggressively alienating, but it also refuses to smooth down any of its rough edges. This single-minded focus on the core premise is admirable, but it also means that Butt Boy will have an extremely limited audience. It is a film that can only recommend itself to a particular kind of audience, but that audience will love it. Indeed, the review seems somewhat pointless, with the premise itself serving as a litmus test.

At the same time, there’s something very engaging about Butt Boy. Cornack’s willingness to completely run with his central premise allows the film to play with surprisingly interesting ideas. It is a film that is very consciously and very overtly built around a very specific sort of heterosexual male panic – the film’s decision to “play it straight” feels like a sly gag of itself. Like a lot of serial killer thrillers, Butt Boy is a film about insecurity and repression. However, the nature of that insecurity and repression plays as farce. Butt Boy spoofs that heterosexual male panic.

More than that, there is a surprisingly sincere addiction metaphor playing out within Butt Boy, about the way in which self-destructive urges gradually escalate and eventually become (literally) all-consuming. None of this is to suggest that Butt Boy is overly earnest or nuanced in its study of a man who enjoys placing objects inside his lower colon, but the film’s willingness to develop its core concept allows for a surprising amount of depth.

Butt Boy is a little rough around the edges and a little indulgent in its storytelling. However, there’s a lot to like in the end.

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