Film Review: Butter

Labored anti-right-wing comedy begins with a ridiculous premise and arbitrarily piles up the outrageousness to a numbing degree.

If ultra-silly is to your taste cinema-wise, then Butter should be right up your alley. The story revolves around a competition involving elaborate butter sculptures, which pits Laura Pickler (Jennifer Garner), the insufferably self-righteous, right-wing wife of Bob (Ty Burrell), former champion, against seemingly their entire small, red-state Iowa town. Her competition includes Brooke (Olivia Wilde), a rapacious stripper Bob has taken up with and owes money to; Carol Ann (Kristen Schaal), a dippy cat lady and, most threateningly, Destiny (Yara Shahidi), a black, foster-parented ten-year-old girl with an uncanny knack for carving up buttery masterpieces.

Jason Micallef’s script is filled with comic fillips like a prize-winning sculpture of Newt Gingrich on a horse, which may strike some staunchly leftist viewers as hilarious, others as merely forced. You’re asked to swallow an enormous chunk of outrageousness masquerading as satire—starting with the premise itself—to enjoy this labored farce. Jim Field Smith’s direction is of a piece with the writing, doing little to counteract its heavy-handed, endlessly snarky agenda. The character of Destiny is especially tiresome: she is, in her way, a preternaturally calm, white-imagined p.c. stereotype of superior, intelligent perfection, but not above using the word “cracker” to describe all these frantic silly-billys surrounding her. At least the movie is handsomely photographed by Jim Denault.

Garner, as always, works too comically hard to prove that she is more than just a pretty face, and her busy, relentlessly angry interpretation of Laura lacks the demonic charisma which could make us somehow admire as well as loathe her. She makes Michele Bachmann seem like Marilyn Monroe here. Burrell rather phones in his performance as a dimmer version of his “Modern Family” harried Everyman character. Wilde enjoys herself playing a real sleazeball, but her lesbian involvement with Laura’s nubile stepdaughter Kaitlen (Ashley Greene) is a too-easy, unseemly bit of laddish wish-fulfillment. Schaal does her usual clueless, googly-eyed shtick. As Destiny’s latest in a long line of hapless foster parents, Alicia Silverstone is wasted, but Rob Corddry manages to quietly give the best performance in the film. Hugh Jackman pops up in a cowboy hat in what is little more than a cameo, performing stud service for Laura.