Film Review: The Butterfly Tree (Australia, 2017) is visually lush but fails to produce a story to match

Given how lush Priscilla Cameron‘s debut feature The Butterfly Tree appears, it’s a real shame that the material at hand doesn’t match its aesthetic.  With its jazz-influenced pop soundtrack and Baz Luhrman-like colour pallet, there’s no denying how visually appealing the film is, but it becomes strikingly evident that it’s all for show when Cameron’s script fails to deliver anything other than predictable melodrama.

Centred on a trio of damaged characters who are all interlinked through relation or relationship, The Butterfly Tree wastes little time in assuring us that its titular insect will be a significant presence in their respective lives.  Young Fin (Ed Oxenbould) is a sprightly tween who is still mourning the death of his mother three years prior.  Butterflies were her passion, and now his, and at the base of the sprawling tree next to his home he has built a shrine of sorts that keeps her memory alive; it also happens to be the home to countless butterflies, and its through his trippy daydreams that they envelop him and offer him a sense of escape.

Fin’s father Al (Ewen Leslie), a community college poetry teacher, is finding his own escape through casual sex encounters, though his latest tryst with student Shelley (Sophie Lowe) is threatening to derail his career should he be less careless with their indiscretion.

Given the film’s penchant for coincidence, Al and Fin’s strained relationship is stretched when they both fall under the hypnotic spell of Evelyn (Melissa George), a former Burlesque dancer who has set up shop in their small town with a floral business.  She’s a woman with a lot of secrets, many of which she isn’t willing to share, but she finds comfort in both Al and Fin, however unaware that they are father and son.

The light romanticised tone the early moments in the film suggests eventually break for a wildly melodramatic last act where Al and Fin’s relationship comes to a head, and Evelyn’s constant pulling away is revealed as a reaction to her inevitable fate.

It’s unclear to know just what exactly Cameron’s intentions were with this film as the various plot strands feel inorganically blended.  As messy as the story proves to be though, The Butterfly Tree at least benefits from the committed performances of Oxenbould, Leslie and, particularly, George, the actress returning to her Australian roots with a sublime performance that transcends her character’s description and stands as the sole reason this film manages to flap its wings at all.

Review Score: TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

The Butterfly Tree is in select cinemas now.