Confusions of an Unmarried Couple  (2006) – ***1/2

The Butler Bros. continue to amaze me. As filmmakers, they have a mental library of great directors they draw upon to make their own works. More importantly, I never feel that they are unworthy of the significant comparisons.

Take the Bros. newest film Confusions of an Unmarried Couple, for example. The influences of John Cassavetes are unmistakable. It’s easily the strongest film to date from two of the strongest voices in indie film. But that also means it’s time for them to step it up to the next level of filmmaking.

Confusions follows Dan, who months after finding his girlfriend Lisa in bed with another girl decides to collect his belongings from the apartment they shared. Apparently looking for a confrontation, Dan makes sure that Lisa is home before he barges in. An argument, months in the making, it lives up to everything a knock-down, drag out relationship fight should be, right down the sex part.

Confusions is the Butler Bros. most inspired and most flawed achievement. It’s inspired because the Brothers take their usual topic (a break-up) and turn it into a fresh cinéma vérité relationship film. The life and intimacy in the production that differentiates the Brothers’ work from the films that inspire them.

But the Brothers have outgrown the style that made them famous. In an interview with co-director Brett Butler, Brett said that he and his brother Jason have matured, but their characters haven’t. It’s apparent on screen. The story doesn’t need the Butlers’ signature humor, which is rooted in debates groups of friends, not two lovers, would have. Some of the lines just fall flat. In spite of that, the film holds together.

Maybe it’s the aggressive intimacy that makes the film work. The Brothers are able to dig up conscious and subconscious insecurities in their characters. The devastating honesty in the interviews with Lisa and Dan (made into a documentary by Dan’s fictional brother) goes beyond the pop culture references to Sixteen Candles or Angelina Jolie.

I would hate to pull another Kevin Smith comparison out for the Butler Bros., but I will only as a warning. Confusions of an Unmarried Couple, through all of its inspiration and artistry, could end up being the Butlers’ Chasing Amy if they don’t proceed cautiously from here. Sure, they don’t have Ben Affleck, but Confusions is the type of soul-searching project that can make or break a filmmaker.

Before he made Clerks 2, Smith’s films had an empty quality to them based in his inability to leave something behind. When he made Clerks 2, he wasn’t just revisiting; he was growing. The Butler Bros. are on the verge. They’ve already proven they are ready to grow beyond their first two productions with the refreshing addition of Ryan Noel as sound and music guy. All I’m asking now is for the Brothers to move past what they are doing and finally make that indie masterpiece that I know they have in them.

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