Film Review – Butter
Butter (2012) is a satire of Midwestern American culture centered on a subject matter I know nothing about. I’ve seen plenty of woodcarving and ice carving in my day, but never butter carving. I have to admit, my mind was blown by some of the intricate pieces on display. We have sculptures of horse riders, different kinds of cars, famous historical moments, on and on. One of the centerpieces is a life size replica of Jesus and the Last Supper. I can only imagine how much time and effort was put into making such a piece. Too bad there weren’t more sequences involving the carving and shaping, because the ones included here are easily the most memorable moments. In fact, I would be more interested in seeing a documentary on real butter sculptors, and why they choose the diary product over say, marble or stone.
But alas, that opportunity is sidestepped for a narrative that attempts to paint its characters under a harsh light. It’s one thing to poke at and satirize characters, but it’s another to simply make them caricatures to the point of being derogatory. This is a very mean-spirited satire that doesn’t simply tease, it skewers. Whatever political affiliation you choose to target, it doesn’t help making them cartoon characters, and then asking us to have sympathy for them near the end. Take the lead character, Laura Pickler (Jennifer Garner). Laura is clearly a representation of members of the far right. To say that she is a metaphor is an understatement. She dresses in outfits that were in fashion in the 1950s, and speaks in an accent so noticeably parallel to Sarah Palin that the part could’ve been played by Tina Fey. Director Jim Field Smith (along with writer Jason A. Micallef) layers the political connections so heavily that it was hard to concentrate on the story alone.
Laura is married to Bob Pickler (Ty Burrell) a champion butter carver who has won the local competition fifteen years running. When Bob is asked to step down and allow some new comers to try, Laura takes it upon herself to enter and win. Apparently, being a champion butter carver is a big deal to her. Forget about having a loving husband, being financially secure, and owning a beautiful home, all that matters to her is making sure that the whole town knows they can make a block of butter look like Michelangelo’s David. Her sheer determination causes stress amongst the household, understandably so. There is a moment where Laura describes that winning “is all that I have.” My forehead is still a little red after I slapped it with my palm.
The far more interesting character is Destiny (Yara Shahidi). Destiny is a foster child, and has been tossed around from one home to another. When she reaches the Emmet couple (Rob Corddry/Alicia Silverstone), her suspicions are easily justified (she keeps her suitcase ready at all times). Destiny is a smart, talented, and observant child, and while Shahidi certainly doesn’t have much acting experience, she gives just enough to make us root for her. The way she coolly confesses that she has no promise shows how bad her upbringing must have been. Thankfully, she soon discovers that she can harness her surprising artistic talent into butter carving, and picks it up remarkably fast. Destiny’s spunk and confidence poses as a problem for Laura, who knows that winning the hearts of the people (and more importantly, the judges) will be a difficult thing when she’s up against an eleven year old with a troubled past.
Small town Iowa is the setting of the story, which should have been named “GoodLookingsville” for the kind of cast put together. Hugh Jackman and Olivia Wilde make appearances for reasons that don’t go much further than their physical attractiveness. Jackman plays Boyd Bolton, a car salesman who dated Laura back in high school, and who will still do her bidding at the drop of a cowboy hat. What he tries to do to sabotage Destiny’s success goes to a level lower than poor taste. Even worse is Wilde, who plays the stripper Brooke Swinkowski. I’ll admit, Olivia Wilde is easy on the eyes, but her character’s sexuality and crudeness is all that we are given of her. After having “an encounter” with Mr. Pickler, Brooke makes it her lone goal to either get her money or ruin Laura’s chances of winning, both if she can have it her way. Brooke’s lack of manners, along with her abrasively rude social skills, becomes tiresome very quickly.
I laughed a few times at the start of Butter, but as it progressed, the jokes became meaner and the satire much too on the surface. By the time we arrive at the overly sappy conclusion (including the cliché “resolution in front of an entire crowd” moment) it’s simply too late. It’s at this point where I could include some snarky joke about butter, margarine, and Fabio, but I’m sure you’ve already come up with them even before finishing this review.
Film Review: C