[Review] – Butter

17 Oct

Title: Butter
Year: 2012
Director: Jim Field Smith
Writer: Jason A. Micallef
Starring: Jennifer Garner, Ty Burrell, Olivia Wilde, Rob Corddry, Ashley Greene, Alicia Silverstone, Hugh Jackman, Kristen Schaal, Yara Shahidi
MPAA Rating: R, language and sexual content
Runtime: 90 min
IMDb Rating: 5.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 34%
Metacritic: 40

The cast of Butter, Jim Field Smith‘s ensemble comedy which premiered at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, is certainly an impressive one. From Jennifer Garner to Ty Burrell to Olivia Wilde to Hugh Jackman, you’d reckon that if these guys had signed on to do this movie it was probably something good, not to mention that Jason A. Micallef‘s screenplay for it came in third place on 2008’s Blacklist, so that was another thing going for it. And yet this was just a totally mess, responsibility for which I’m afraid I’m to pin on Mr. Smith who plays with the material with such a heavy hand and an overall sense of arrogance that whatever nice satire this film was aiming for is annulled.

Ms. Garner is the lead here, Laura Pickler, an alpha female kind of woman who’s married to Ty Burrell’s Bob Pickler who’s won Iowa’s butter sculpting contest every year for the past 15 years. The thing is, because he’s won so much he’s kind of forced to retire which causes a fight with Laura who’s obsessed with the social status that comes from winning the contest, which in turn leads Bob to go to strip club where he meets Olivia Wilde’s Brooke, who works there.

Laura then decides to enter the contest herself, as does Brooke because Bob owes her $600 bucks. Joining them are Carol-Ann Stevenson, Bob’s biggest fan who’s played by Kristen Schaal, as well as Destiny, a 10-year-old orphan who’s just been placed with Ethan and Jill, played by Rob Corddry and Alicia Silverstone, and who’s something of a butter-sculpting prodigy. And Butter just goes from there and enters totally crazy territory, with Brooke getting it on with Kaitlin, the Pickler’s daughter played by Ashley Greene, and Laura seeking the help of a childhood boyfriend, played by Mr. Jackman, to help her dethrone Destiny after she loses the competition.

So, yeah, Butter is just totally crazy, and even though there are a couple of amusing scenes the whole thing just never quite got to work for me, it felt too thick at times and too thin at others and given the amount of talent you’ll honestly be in disbelief that this one wasn’t much better. And, again, I honestly believe it mostly falls on Mr. Smith who as a director threw any kind of subtlety in the material out the window and whatever satirical intelligence that was in the script was made to feel like a totally stupid kind of crude mockery here.

Plus it’s kind of funny because it’s so obvious that Butter wants to be this social satire, it wants to behave like one of Alexander Payne‘s early movies as thought they had also been co-directed by Christopher Guest. What makes satires work are two very distinct things that Butter so painfully lacks: situations you can believe and performances that you can believe, no matter how kooky the characters. Here the situations are handled so, so poorly and the performances, to be quite honest, left me feeling as though these fine actors thought it was awesome enough that they were daring to be in a satire like this in the first place and forgot all about putting some actual effort into their performances.

That’s what got me ticked off at this film, the fact that I couldn’t help registering this overlying sense of smugness the film held throughout the procedure even though it was ultimately such a toothless satire. Whatever social commentary this seems to be making, Michele Bachmann a clear influence on Ms. Garner’s role, it has absolutely no edge because the director seemed not only not to care one bit about his characters but he also didn’t seem to understand them at all, either, and movies like this can’t succeed when you have stuff like that going on. I don’t want to go for the obvious pun here, but whatever chance Butter had of being a timely satire with some bite just melts away very quickly here.

I said that the actors don’t put much effort into their performances, that’s actually not entirely true. I mean, most of the cast doesn’t, but I thought Rob Corddry was actually very good here and Ms. Garner really tries her best at this absurd performance but was betrayed by the fact that the screenplay did her role no favors, just churning Laura out like a one-note caricature. Because, by the way, even though the script was in the Blacklist and I generally believe it was hurt by the direction it got here, I didn’t really think it was all that to begin with; it’s just too sloppy in the way it puts its characters in all these problematic predicaments and then doesn’t really deal with them.

Butter is a mess of a film and one that I really didn’t care for at all. I’m not going to fail it because it’s got a few amusing performances and moments, but as far as what it set out to do and how it went on to try and achieve it it really does deserve a failing grade. It never once knows how to nail its satire tone, going through it all with a heavy hand that favors formulaic developments and a schmaltzy feel at times when it needed everything but that. This could have potentially been a tremendously fun film, especially considering the level of talent involved, but it absolutely squandered its potential.

Grade: C-

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