Director: Jim Field Smith
Screenwriter: Jason A. Micallef
Cast: Jennifer Garner, Hugh Jackman, Olivia Wilde, Ashley Greene, Alicia Silverstone, Rob Corddry, Ty Burrell
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 8/29/12
Opens: October 5, 2012 (Sept 7, 2012 on VOD)
“All white people are weird,” exclaims the youngest member of the cast of “Butter,” a statement that’s right on target. And who’d have it any other way? The weirdness of nearly every man and woman in “Butter,” particularly when contrasted with the sanity and grace of the young speaker, makes this the year’s best satire to date. So step aside, Tracy Flick, from Alexander Payne’s “Election.” You’ve got nothing on Destiny (Yara Shahidi), the ten-year-old orphan shifted from one foster to parent to another, who has more sense than the lot of so-called adults.
“Butter” is only a small part political take-off, in that Laura Pickler (Jennifer Garner) runs for governor, her campaigning framing the movie like a pair of bookends. Instead, Jim Field Smith mines the territory dug so well by Christopher Guest, whose “Best in Show” is a gentle parody of the odd folks who trot out their pooches in the hope of garnering ribbons. Smith’s movie, scripted by Jason A. Micallef, takes place in small-town Iowa and as such both embraces the values of what’s pejoratively called fly-over country and pokes fun at the population’s pretensions and interests. What counts, however, is that the ensemble expertly use agile comic timing to generate quite a number of laughs, with vulgarity thrown in just a mite here and there to keep the story in current fashion.
One critic has called Bob Pickler (Ty Burrell) “the Michelangelo of Margarine,” though he never goes for that artificial stuff, so let’s dub him the Botticelli of Butter. Every year for the past decade and a half, he has taken first prize in the annual contest, sculpting elaborate figures to the oohs and aahs of the crowds. His most recent piece, “The Last Supper,” must have used 200 pounds of the artery-busting stuff if he used a stick. But he is so good that he is forced into retirement to give someone else a chance. That chance is taken up by three of the town’s contestants, principally Bob’s aggressive wife Laura (Jennifer Garner) and the small, adorable Destiny, the latter having been taken in by foster parents Ethan Emmet (Rob Corddry) and Julie (Alicia Silverstone). Destiny discovers that she has a natural talent for butter carving, pitting her against Laura, a control freak who goes ballistic upon hearing that her husband has been sidelined and decides to put herself into competition.
In one of the film’s funniest episodes Brooke (Olivia Wilde), a hot stripper, gets involved with Bob Pickler, demanding six hundred dollars for services rendered. When Laura gets wind of her husband’s straying, she confronts Brooke: “You gave him six hundred blow jobs on credit?” Even that episode is topped by a scene that finds Laura’s ex-boyfriend Boyd Bolton (Hugh Jackman) cozying up to Laura, but he is simply being used by the woman to help her beat Destiny in a final round of sculpting at the Iowa State Fair.
The entire ensemble work in perfect sync, with side roles such as that of Nancy (Phyllis Smith) performing as the often bemused emcee of the contests and Carol-Ann Stevenson (Kristen Schaal) as a bewildered contestant. British director Jim Field Smith, whose previous feature, “She’s Out of My League,” about an average Joe who meets the perfect woman, foreshadows his talent this time around, evoking a poignant performance particularly from Yara Shahidi, a half African-American, half Iranian middle-schooler who is perfect for the role.
Rated R. 90 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – A-
Overall – A-