Jim Field Smith’s mild political satire Butter is a thinly veiled spoof of the 2008 race for the Democratic presidential nomination between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, transplanted to a quirky contest in America’s heartland.
The movie stars Jennifer Garner as Laura Pickler, the high-strung wife of local superstar Bob Pickler (Ty Burrell), who has won the town’s annual butter-carving contest every year he’s competed in it. Bob is a legend thanks to his prowess in the event, but this year he decides he’s done with it and gives his highly ambitious wife the chance to step into the spotlight. She enters the competition, in part out of her own outsized need to win, and also to get back at Bob for his endless string of infidelities that she’s quietly lived with throughout their marriage.
With her stiff posture, pinched mouth, and driven-by-sheer-tenacity glare, Laura Pickler will remind many of recent right-wing presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann. However, she also resembles Hillary not only due to the allusions to Bill Clinton’s hounddog past, but because Laura’s biggest adversary turns out to be a preternaturally even-tempered, elementary-school-age, adopted black girl named Destiny (Yara Shahidi). At that point, the events of 2008 echo loudly. Annoying Laura even further, a third party enters the contest in the form of Brooke Swinkowski (Olivia Wilde), Bob Pickler’s sexiest and most persistent mistress. Unable to accept that she might not be victorious, Laura resorts to drastic and unethical measures to win, including calling on the services of an unscrupulous ex-boyfriend (Hugh Jackman).
The script by first-time screenwriter Jason Micallef certainly has originality in its favor. The unique collision of offbeat Christopher Guest-inspired small-town insanity and insistent (though never explicit) political satire makes it difficult to know what twists and turns are coming. In addition, Smith’s direction is solid, getting laughs out of the various jokes and giving the actors room to be as broad as something this silly requires without making them overly cartoonish -- “overly” being the key word.
There are laughs to be had throughout Butter thanks to the fine work by the cast: Shahidi has a wonderful face and delivers a number of monologues with winning ease, Garner’s control-freak meltdowns are a kick, Rob Corddry finally gets to play something other than an obnoxious jackass as Destiny’s dad, Wilde is heart-stoppingly sexy, and Burrell turns Bob into a himbo of the highest comedic order. If only Butter added up to a little more, all of their fine work would have coalesced into something much better. It settles for cute when it could have had more bite, and it aims for amusing when it had hilarious in its sights. leave a comment --Perry Seibert