A fun fact about myself that I both love and hate is that I am French. I love the culture, I love the food, and I love the sights and sounds of Paris and the Parisian countryside. On the other hand, I am French, so I kind of hate myself. So, of course, one of the most French guys on the site decides to go see the French family drama about a father getting to know his estranged daughter. It just makes sense.
And I can definitely say that sometimes, sitting down and enjoying a simple movie every now and then is good for you. Not every movie needs to have a huge setpiece moment or catastrophic stakes. Sometimes it’s nice just to sit back and watch a mellow movie about a father spending time with his daughter. If that’s what you’re looking for, then you will be pleased with The Elephant and the Butterfly. Granted that’s all you’ll be getting, which doesn’t exactly make it the most interesting movie in the world to watch.
The Elephant and the Butterfly
Director: Amelie van Elmbt
Release Date: April 19, 2018 (Tribeca Film Festival)
The movie starts out simply enough. Elsa’s mother is going away for the weekend and she calls on her ex Antoine to watch Elsa, especially since he just randomly showed up at her door the minute before she was supposed to leave. From that point on, the two slowly get to know each other and Antoine becomes the father that Elsa always wanted to have.
It’s a heart warming premise and it’s great watching these two slowly learn to rely on each other, but the rest of the movie just relies on that bond. There are no twists or turns in The Elephant and the Butterfly. It’s as straightforward as a movie can get with it just becoming a home video project. And while I don’t want it to sound like simple is bad, it’s not exactly the most engaging of movies.
For 90 minutes, we see Elsa and Antoine go from strangers to a father and daughter having a nice weekend together. They go to a beach, Antoine tells her stories at night, they have cake, and it’s all fine, but it all lacks depth. Oh sure, we learn about how Antoine wants to be a part of Elsa’s life more and his extended family are happy that he’s inserting himself into her life, but it’s still just 90 minutes of watching two people spend time together. I kept waiting for something to happen, anything that might add more depth to the story, but it never came.
The Elephant and the Butterfly tries to be as realistic as possible and include very realistic conversations. Antoine and Elsa argue over which bike to rent at the boardwalk. Elsa wants a horse bike, but Antoine says it’s a bit more expensive. Then he eventually gets it and they ride on together. Realistic? Yes, very much so, especially if you’ve ever been a parent with a small child or worked with kids. Is it entertaining or engaging to watch? Not so much.
Maybe I went into this movie with the wrong mindset, but The Elephant and the Butterfly is just dull. I can appreciate how it isn’t a big raunchy comedy or a super serious drama about estranged parents, but when you go with the middle road, you get pretty lukewarm decisions and reactions. No one wants to watch people be people in real-world circumstances. Movies are meant to be a form of escapism, but The Elephant and the Butterfly isn’t even that. It’s not harmful or anything, but it’s the cinematic equivalent of oatmeal; it’s healthy for you and there’s nothing wrong with it, but there are better breakfast options for you to have that will give you some form of flavor.