- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Weinstein Co.
Reviewed by Ezra Stead
utter” starts out poorly and then, improbably, just gets worse and worse. A broad, unfunny “satire” that undercuts its already weak stabs at ruthless overachievers of the upper middle class variety with predictable, forced sentimentality, “Butter” is the kind of movie you might go see with your extended family on Thanksgiving because you can’t stand making small talk with them, only to end up hating the post-movie conversation even more when everyone starts throwing words like “nice” and “cute” around. It may try to liven things up with some edgy cursing and jabs at the Republican party, but it isn’t fooling me for a second: this movie is playing it safe, through and through.
Jennifer Garner stars as Laura Pickler, a Sarah Palin/Michelle Bachmann type who has stood faithfully by for years as her husband Bob (Ty Burrell) won top honors in the annual butter-carving competition at the state fair. Now, Bob has been asked to step aside and let someone else have a chance at the title, but Laura will not be so easily swayed. As the film begins, she narrates her own story, in a flash-forward that shows her in a political rally, apparently in a bid for office. Then, after that is set up, the voiceover narration abruptly shifts (for the rest of the entire movie) to another character.
Destiny (Yara Shahidi) is an orphan who has cycled through a series of unfit foster parents before ending up at the home of Ethan and Julie Emmet (Rob Corddry and Alicia Silverstone, respectively), a couple who, along with Destiny, are basically the film’s most likable characters, though even they are conveniently labeled types. Silverstone parodies her own real-life vegan, health conscious personality as Julie, while Ethan and Destiny bond over their desire to eat forbidden junk food. For no really good or believable reason, Destiny becomes interested in butter sculpture after seeing Bob’s work at the fair, and she shows a prodigious talent for it.
Meanwhile, Laura and Bob have a fight over Bob’s decision to sit the contest out, leading Bob into the arms of another woman, a stripper named Brooke Swinkowski (Olivia Wilde), who occasionally supplements her income by going a little further than merely removing her clothes in public. When Laura catches them in a way that is no more probable than basically anything else in the dunderheaded script, Brooke decides to devote herself to ruining Laura by, I kid you not, entering the butter-carving contest. Again, there is no real genuine motivation for this, other than it is what the script requires. So, along with the always delightful Kristen Schaal (who steals every scene she’s in as the clumsy, Laura-worshipping Carol-Ann Stevenson), Brooke provides the other foil for the real conflict, which comes down to Laura versus Destiny.
Though Schaal and Corddry (as well as Phyllis Smith of “The Office,” as the contest runner) are as enjoyable as ever, and Hugh Jackman gets to have a bit of fun in a glorified cameo as Laura’s idiot ex-boyfriend, “Butter” struggles in vain both for laughs and the eventual poignancy it tries to force into its shoddy narrative. Managing to be both patently absurd and utterly predictable at the same time is a feat, to be sure, but not one that deserves any real praise.