Jennifer Garner plays a small-town social climber in 'Butter'
Rating: 2 stars out of 5
Screenwriter Jason Micallef’s directorial debut work, ‘Butter’, was third on the Hollywood ‘Blacklist’ in 2008, a list of Hollywood’s most popular unproduced screenplays back. Now, with Jennifer Garner as one of the stars and producers, it’s finally hitting screens. But, as we found out, it might not have been worth the wait.
For the past 15 years, Bob Pickler (Ty Burrell) has dominated the butter sculpting competition at the Iowa State Fair, winning with his sculptures of first lady Laura Bush and Schindler’s List. When Destiny, a 10-year old orphan, wanders into Bob’s recreation of the last supper and sculpts a cup beautifully, she impresses Bob. Soon after, Bob is asked to step aside to give other competitors a chance. Bob agrees. However, his domineering and ambitious wife, Laura (Jennifer Garner) gets all riled up about it, driving Bob to a one night tryst with stripper Brooke (Olivia Wilde). The butter sculpting competition then becomes a three-way battle between a feisty Laura, a vengeful Brooke and the young and hopeful Destiny.
Olivia Wilde shows a very different side in 'Butter'
‘Butter’ certainly aims high with its satirical subject. But while it’s hilarious, witty and even smart at times, on the whole ‘Butter’ just doesn’t seem to know what it is doing. Some of the characters in the script are lazy stereotypes, like Laura the Republican trophy wife addicted to power and all that it brings. The character is written like a complete caricature, with everything she says or does veering to the extreme and ridiculous. It’s hard to connect with the character, mainly because she’s written like a parody of Sarah Palin, which though funny, is four years too late. Fortunately, Jennifer Garner plays the role well, considering what she has to work with, which is almost nothing. Her over the top performance consists of some uptight primping and superiority complex-filled moments that really pushes it over the hump.
Yara Shahidi’s 10-year old Destiny, on the other hand, is easily the best thing about this movie. Destiny’s plight as a foster child sees her shipped from one awkward foster parent to another, until she finally ends up with Ethan and Kaitlin (Rob Corddry and Alicia Silverstone). As a result of her tough childhood, Destiny is hilariously astute for her age, chiming in with some of the best sarcastic racial observations we’ve from a kid. Her scenes with Corddry too are a standout, as they aren’t just funny, but also reveal a thin layer of hurt that’s barely present and sorely needed in the film.
Additionally, Olivia Wilde and Hugh Jackman show up to steal the show in hilarious roles. Wilde is a crazed punk rock stripper with the unexpected heart of gold, and Jackman a sleazy redneck car dealer, who also happens to be Laura’s past love.
‘Butter’ ultimately suffers big time due to a lack of consistency in its writing. The screenplay sounds like it was written on the fly without any thought put into it at all. Too often, the film chooses the easy way out—settling for cutesy ‘awwww’ moments when there could have been a stronger pay off and going for the cheap laughs when a joke could have been built up more.
In the end, no one knows exactly what this movie is about. Is it another skewering of Midwestern and Republican America? Not exactly. Is it about an obsession with pointless contests? Maybe. Who knows?
What we do know is despite its talented and funny cast, the movie is as lacking in substance as its title suggests—you could cut through the fluff as easily as a hot knife would go through butter. Its potential to push boundaries with its odd and quirky subject matter is completely unutilised; and it ends up being another incoherent movie.