While it might sound like a joke, there are people out there that are really good at carving butter. It’s a substance with a malleable consistency that remains solid when cool; why not use it to make sculptures? Also, why not use it as the premise of a ridiculous movie? “Butter” is director Jim Field Smith’s latest movie since “She’s Out of My League,” and it is jam-packed with big names — some of whom we haven’t heard from in a while. But, maybe it should have stayed that way since “Butter” is about as messy as its namesake’s liquid state.
Laura Pickler (Jennifer Garner, “The Odd Life of Timothy Green”) is a driven, conservative woman. Her husband, Bob Pickler (Ty Burrell, TV’s “Modern Family”), is an Iowa-famous butter carver. His works include a replica of The Last Supper and reenactments from “Schindler’s List,” making him a favorite among judges of butter carving competitions. But when he’s told he must step down from running to let others have a shot at winning, Laura will not let her fame-by-marriage disappear without a fight.
Meanwhile, Destiny (Yara Shahidi, TV’s “Family Guy”), a young orphan trying to find her place in the world, bounces from foster home to foster home until she lands at the Emmet’s, where foster dad Ethan (Rob Corddry, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”) encourages her to pursue what she’s best at. After Destiny recalls once helping Bob sculpt butter at the Iowa State Fair, she begins to hone her skills for art and carving. Destiny eventually finds herself rivaled with Laura, who has become obsessed with reclaiming her husband’s glory, in the race for the best butter carving at the Iowa State Fair.
While “Butter” may sound adorably over the top, race randomly becomes a serious undertone. The writing often focuses on the whiteness of the people of Iowa surrounding Destiny, and her entire arc is wrapped up in tokenism. While we could expect remarks about favoritism by super conservative Laura, the concept is heavily touched upon before suddenly disappearing later on. The inconsistencies in the presentation of the racism commentary are open to interpretation, but add up to a loose end that just can’t be ignored.
Many main characters are expanded on during the typical 90 minute runtime, but so many more are under developed. Jennifer Garner is miscast as a crazy conservative with acting that’s so far over the edge she could make Sarah Palin blush, yet she underwhelms at the same time. Olivia Wilde plays a stripper and prostitute named Brooke who’s hounding Bob for money after Laura rams her car into the car Bob was receiving “services” in. Whoever did her makeup and costume needs to be given an award because she is hot. I mean, smoking hot. Holy shit, her sexual dancing and skimpy outfits alone are enough to see this movie. Wilde plays to her sexy strengths and delivers a solid performance. That said, “Butter” isn’t supposed to revolve around the hotness of Olivia Wilde.
There are so many people from various TV shows that “Butter” would have been better off as a mini-series on Showtime or HBO. Instead of relying on stereotypes to build characters, with more time and detail given to writing, “Butter” would have been better-rounded instead of a parade of clashing stiff personalities wrapped in a typical storyline.
With a mildly entertaining plot, “Butter” continues to be underwhelming in its presentation. Production values are borderline cheap indie film, though with a full soundtrack that keeps in mind every scene of the film. The cinematography of “Butter” doesn’t place the film anywhere in particular; Iowa doesn’t really stand out as Iowa despite the importance of the setting to the overall impact of the plot. But, the film is only seven bucks on iTunes, so it’s hard to say its producers were shooting for anything more than a cheap flick.
“Butter” is lacking the proper adhesive to keep its several micro-plots together, but there’s an easy-to-follow overarching story. If you took out the swearing, sex and mature themes you’d have a run of the mill kid’s flick. It would be boring as hell, but complete. Despite its quirky strengths, between the random appearance of Hugh Jackman as a dumb, lovesick car dealer and the arbitrary Olivia Wilde lesbian scene, “Butter” is one of those movies to put on for a good drunken laugh or to watch while doing something else.
3 out of 5 stars