A fantastic performance by Lindsay Pulsipher helps this gritty drama get past its twee shortcomings.
Directed by Eric Hueber, Flutter follows JoLynn (Lindsay Pulsipher), a single mother left to care for her son Johnathan, who is suffering from a severe case of glaucoma. Life isn’t made any easier for JoLynn when she realizes she is running out of money, with her only source of aid coming from absent husband’s parents.
Flutter initially appears to be an examination of a struggling parent. JoLynn gives her son cannabis rather than his prescribed medicine, lives in appalling conditions, has no electricity, and occasionally allows her son to share his bedroom with a fully sized pig named Wee Wee, who also happens to be his best and only friend. Meanwhile, her husband David, a musician, has decided to tour the country, leaving his family to fend for themselves. It’s not surprising that Johnathan’s grandparents desperately want Johnathan to come and live with them, and Glen Morshower is on top form as the pained grandfather Mark, who’s clearly conflicted over his affection for JoLynn and concern for his grandson. On the other hand, Johnathan’s grandmother Linda is less concerned with revealing her true feelings about JoLynn, but Mark holds her back from doing so.
Despite the serious plot, Flutter is not a sobering portrayal of parental abuse, but rather a determinedly optimistic film striving to convey the strength of the relationship between a mother and son. JoLynn’s apparent lack of hope without a man in her life may feel like a plot point designed to aggravate feminists, yet JoLynn is one of the strongest characters in the film. And while Mark may be more rational than JoLynn, he has also trapped himself in an unhappy marriage. JoLynn’s world may be collapsing around her, but she never gives in to depression. She is determined to make her son happy, and give him the best life she can. This central message of the film is bolstered by a captivating performance from Lindsay Pulsipher, who conveys a great deal of love and pain with very little dialogue. Pulsipher steals every scene she is in despite being surrounded by a talented cast including Morshower and Charles Halford, who puts in a stirring performance as JoLynn’s pot smoking friend and confidant.
However, Flutter’s inherent sense of optimism does occasionally verge on twee, and this is where the film suffers. Hueber, for example, treats us to a number of animated sequences involving Johnathan fighting sea monsters. These scenes feel underdeveloped, never really giving much insight into Johnathan’s character until they’re lumped into a rather laboured metaphor at the end. This clashes with the powerful realism of the film, and it feels like Hueber is trying too hard to be cutesy when he is more at home with gritty material. And scenes involving JoLynn’s husband David singing whispery blues over a whimsical montage lack the same subtlety as the rest of the film. This is especially frustrating, since Pulsipher’s performance elicits all the emotion it needs without Hueber having to rely on manufactured emotional poignancy to get his message across.
Flutter may have its shortcomings, but its strengths outweigh its flaws. It’s a confident film from Hueber, and in Pulsipher he has truly found a fantastic actress, whose performance here ought to see her receive more leading roles in the future.
Flutter is available now on VOD.