As a widower and his son struggle to gain some semblance of a normal life, a mysterious and a radiant and exotic newcomer moves into the town. The relationship between the boy and his father is strained as both develop an affection for the beautiful Evelyn (Melissa George). A woman brimming with life and filled with secrets.
Part coming of age story, part grief melodrama, The Butterfly Tree is threaded together with visual symbolism and animation depicting the life cycle of insects. The chrysalis motif most noticeably signifying the burgeoning hormones and sexual awakening of the teenage Fin (Ed Oxenbould). His collecting of butterflies (a hobby passed down by his mother) is something reflected in Evelyn’s own transformations throughout the film. The evolution of form and perceptions of beauty are significant within the narrative and the relationships between Evelyn, Fin and his father, Al (Ewen Leslie).
The three leads are excellent and the first two acts manage to convey a wonderful marriage of both the themes and character development as hearts flutter and imaginations soar. Jason Hargreaves’ cinematography captures light and colour is marvellously realised images. The entire first two acts are filled with quirk, curiosity and vivid imagery as we discover and grow with Fin and Al. There’s an almost, “Mary Poppins for adolescence” quality as the father and son are renewed by the effervescence of their captivating new object of their desires. The problematic element of this is illustrated by the fact that Evelyn as a human being within the film, is more than a curiosity, a pretty thing to be collected and mounted in a frame. If only The Butterfly Tree could have stayed its course and delivered upon this concept, this would have been a worthier endeavour overall.
Sadly, there’s a left-field turn in the final act that damages the overall construct of the film. The narrative sinks into melodrama involving new tragedies, old tragedies with reinforced perspective and an unnecessary aside that feels as though an entire sub-plot has been carelessly ripped away in the editing room. The film loses its way and this is a terrible shame. At 96 minutes the rhythms are wrong, the tonal shift is clumsy and I couldn’t shake the notion that if the film had more time to spread its wings, the final act would not have felt so ill-at-ease with what came before.
Admittedly it has taken a few days to mull over my thoughts on The Butterfly Tree. On one hand, there is an earnestness in the dynamic between the three protagonists. Writer/ Director Priscilla Cameron imbues the characters with human warmth, which is in turn honoured by the fantastic performances from Melissa George, Ewen Leslie and Ed Oxenbould. Unfortunately, besides the often-gorgeous cinematography and animated embellishments, this film becomes a tonal disaster that exhausts its themes and motif before we reach the final act.
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