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Friday, December 7, 2012
"I believe in America. I believe we are the best. I believe we're number one."
As Laura Dean Pickler (Jennifer Garner) archly intones these patriotic sentiments to a curdled rendition of "Battle Hymn of the Republic", BUTTER (2011) lets middle-class white conservatives in flyover country know that, yes, you are about to be ridiculed once again by rich Hollywood liberals attempting to translate their smug condescension into nyuk-nyuks.
Which wouldn't be quite so bad if the movie were funny, but whoops--it isn't. Garner, not generally known for her comedic skills, is notable here mainly for looking really hot as the tall, leggy, overbearing wife of Iowa state champion butter-sculptor Bob Pickler (the ever-laconic Ty Burrell) who sees her husband's butter mastery as a stepping stone to the governor's mansion or maybe even the White House. When Bob meekly complies with a suggestion that he step aside and let someone else win for a change, the enraged Laura enters the competition herself.
Meanwhile, a ten-year-old black girl named Destiny (Yara Shahidi) decides that "white people are weirdos" after being bounced through a series of foster homes peopled by fundie homeschoolers who think dinosaur bones are fallen angels (those dumb white conservatives again!) and, even worse, old people. (We never learn why she's only placed with white couples.) When she ends up with the very nice and supportive Julie and Ethan (Alicia Silverstone, Rob Corddry) who seem too good to be true, she considers them "the whitest people she's ever met" and wonders, "Are these crackers for real?"
Anyway, long story short--which, in this case, would be a blessing--Laura and Destiny both end up competing in the state butter-sculpting contest, with Destiny's tribute to Harriet Tubman threatening to eclipse Laura's laughably all-American depiction of a family saying grace before dinner. As you might guess, Laura turns to the dark side, in the form of old high school flame Boyd Bolton (a very un-Wolverine-like Hugh Jackman), to gain the advantage, thus showing the true colors of not only herself but those wascally, wacist wepublicans in general.
But while BUTTER is laying on its political message with a trowel (Bob's winning sculptures include one of Newt Gingrich on horseback, and when Laura bemoans the "liberal media" we're expected to dutifully acknowledge this as a comic absurdity), its comedy foundation is pretty weak. Garner huffs and puffs her way through her role, cutting a striking figure but lacking any real comic timing or finesse--her character exists mainly to be mocked for having too much of a typically American "can-do attitude." Burrell is barely there as Bob, coming to life only in brief flashes of deadpan humor.
Even less adept at comedy are Olivia Wilde (COWBOYS AND ALIENS) as Brooke, a stripper trying to extort money from Bob after a sexual fling, and Ashley Greene as Laura's sullen stepdaughter Kaitlen. A lesbian subplot between Brooke and Kaitlen fails to be either funny or titillating. On the plus side, Corddry and Silverstone are at least rather likable, and work well with the semi-cute Yara Shahidi. Kristen Schaal in the small role of Laura's ditzy friend Carol-Ann Stevenson comes the closest to actually being funny, which isn't saying much for the film as a whole. An attempt to serious things up for the finale doesn't help much.
The 2-disc Blu-Ray/DVD combo from Anchor Bay and the Weinsteins is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish. Extras consist of a gag reel and deleted/extended scenes, with additional bloopers during the closing credits.
Director Jim Field Smith seems a bit out of his element doing this sort of satirical comedy, as some scenes are shot and edited to appear as though they belong in other genres entirely. What this sort of material needs in order to be successfully put over is the kind of directorial touch demonstrated in films such as "Cold Turkey" and "Smile", both of which were collaborations between filmmakers and actors who understood comedy and knew how to create it. Aside from the occasional chuckle-inducing gag, such as Bob's butter sculpture entitled "T-Rex Eating Girl", BUTTER spreads itself pretty thin.
Buy it at Amazon.com
Posted by Porfle Popnecker at 10:44 PM