Directed by Jim Field Smith
This Butter is a low-calorie recipe that goes well with blue cheese and red herring. But it's best enjoyed with a grain of salt.
World Butter Cup
Laura Pickler (Jennifer Garner) and the titular butter
Photo: The Weinstein Company
As Laura Pickler (Jennifer Garner, TV's Alias) sums it up, this is a tale of "greed, blackmail, sex, and butter" and it's set in that American hotbed of intrigue and corruption, Iowa.
The Picklers are the self-described royal family of butter carving. Laura's husband, Bob (Ty Burrell, Morning Glory), has carved such fattening masterpieces as Newt Gingrich on Horse, T-Rex Eating Girl, Schindler's List, and The Last Supper. The latter epic carving was dubbed by one critic as "better than the original" Da Vinci painting.
Laura asserts more people see the carving competition than attend the Super Bowl, a factoid ignored by the liberal media.
Alas, Laura's world is about to be turned upside down. But not by that liberal media; instead, her aggravation is home grown. Bob is asked to stop competing; he's dominated every year and it's time to give other people a chance. The notion offends Laura and she takes it upon herself to hold the torch of Pickler dominance high and sallies forth with her own crusade to win.
Butter works best when its cultural satire is couched within a mockumentary-style presentation. The goofiness of the butter carving contest works through that faux lens, taking on the same charming earnestness and innocence of This Is Spinal Tap and Best in Show.
There's also plenty of spice provided by the high-grade cast, including Garner and Burrell as the Picklers, Hugh Jackman (Wolverine) as a horny Christian car dealer, and Alicia Silverstone (Clueless) as a foster mother.
But Olivia Wilde (Tron: Legacy) is a scene stealer as Brooke Swinkowski, a stripper who goes by the stage name Tokyo Rose. With tensions on the rise in the Pickler household, Bob seeks comfort in the stripper's arms. She readily seduces several hundred dollars out of him and, in exchange, they rock his mini-van in the strip club's parking lot. When he doesn't pay up, he starts to learn all about how "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."
Wilde goes wild as Brooke, enlivening every scene she's in with enough heat to make Jiffy Pop.
She's the worldly foil to all those conservative family values the movie lampoons with varying degrees of success.
The caricature of middle American innocence and simplicity works as innocent and simple satire. What's not as effective is the movie's left-wing superiority complex, making the political satire a little harder to swallow.
The driving force for the bulk of the blue-red antics revolves around a 10-year-old foster child who keeps all her belongings in a worn-out suitcase because she has to keep moving from family to family for one reason or another. Her name's Destiny (Yara Shahidi, Salt). She's a black girl who sees through the veneer of white Americans; the crackers are all weirdoes, she contends in a voiceover commentary.
It's Destiny's destiny to go trowel-to-trowel with Laura in the butter cooler.
There are points when the screenplay by Jason Micallef (who lists Good Vibrations (starring Charlize Theron) and a King of Kong rewrite on the resume of his freakishly sparse Web site) strays from satire to borderline condescension. Even so, there's enough sweetness in the overall call to open-mindedness to make the vinegar less bitter.
At one point Bob comments to his wife that her butter carving is technically astute, but it lacks soul. And therein lies the appeal of Destiny's butter craft; it's soulful and informed by personal grit and experience.
In some respects, that sums up Butter. In so many aspects it is technically astute but the integrity of its soul is debatable.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.