Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Watch: First Trailer For Tim Burton's 'Big  Eyes' Starring Amy Adams And Christoph Waltz Watch: First Trailer For Tim Burton's 'Big Eyes' Starring Amy Adams And Christoph Waltz 'Deadpool’ Spin-Off With Ryan Reynolds Is Finally Green Lit, Set For A Winter 2016 Release Date 'Deadpool’ Spin-Off With Ryan Reynolds Is Finally Green Lit, Set For A Winter 2016 Release Date 10 Films We Haven’t Yet Seen That May Be Serious Oscar Contenders 10 Films We Haven’t Yet Seen That May Be Serious Oscar Contenders David Fincher Says He Shouldn't Have Directed 'The Game,' Dislikes Superhero Movies & Talks "Crazy" '20,000 Leagues' David Fincher Says He Shouldn't Have Directed 'The Game,' Dislikes Superhero Movies & Talks "Crazy" '20,000 Leagues' Matt Damon & Paul Greengrass Are Returning To The 'Bourne' Series Matt Damon & Paul Greengrass Are Returning To The 'Bourne' Series First Look: Angelina Jolie And Brad Pitt In 'By The Sea' First Look: Angelina Jolie And Brad Pitt In 'By The Sea' The Best, Worst And Most Disappointing Films Of The 2014 Toronto International Film Festival The Best, Worst And Most Disappointing Films Of The 2014 Toronto International Film Festival David Fincher Says Differences Over Casting And Disney's Corporate Culture Stalled '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea' David Fincher Says Differences Over Casting And Disney's Corporate Culture Stalled '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea' Recap: 'Boardwalk Empire' Season 5, Episode 2 ‘The Good Listener’ Recap: 'Boardwalk Empire' Season 5, Episode 2 ‘The Good Listener’ Review: 'No Good Deed' Starring Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson Review: 'No Good Deed' Starring Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson Watch: Shailene Woodley Gets NSFW In 2 Clips From 'White Bird In A Blizzard' Plus New Pics Watch: Shailene Woodley Gets NSFW In 2 Clips From 'White Bird In A Blizzard' Plus New Pics TIFF Review: 'Cake' Starring Jennifer Aniston, Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington & More TIFF Review: 'Cake' Starring Jennifer Aniston, Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington & More Tom Hardy Says He'll Never Do Another Romantic Comedy Again Thanks To 'This Means War' Tom Hardy Says He'll Never Do Another Romantic Comedy Again Thanks To 'This Means War' David Fincher Apparently Thinks 'Dragon Tattoo' Sequel 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' Could Get Made David Fincher Apparently Thinks 'Dragon Tattoo' Sequel 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' Could Get Made The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

TIFF '11 Review: 'Butter' Tries To Carve Up Edgy Laughs But Goes Soft By The End

The Playlist By James Rocchi | The Playlist September 15, 2011 at 7:02AM

A political satire set in the competitive world of butter-carving at the Iowa state fair, the script for "Butter" was so ballyhooed and praised of that it wound up on The Black List, the annual underground buzz list of unproduced screenplays based on a straw poll of agents, development executives and insiders. (As a side note, we must say that The Black List is only interesting as a barometer of quality insofar as you trust agents, development executives and insiders to be able to tell good from bad, which much of Hollywood's output suggests is not actually the case.)
1


A political satire set in the competitive world of butter-carving at the Iowa state fair, the script for "Butter" was so ballyhooed and praised of that it wound up on The Black List, the annual underground buzz list of unproduced screenplays based on a straw poll of agents, development executives and insiders. (As a side note, we must say that The Black List is only interesting as a barometer of quality insofar as you trust agents, development executives and insiders to be able to tell good from bad, which much of Hollywood's output suggests is not actually the case.)

Jennifer Garner is an ambitious, cold, harridan married to Ty Burrell's 15-time butter-carving champion -- an event worthy of note anywhere, but especially in Iowa. As Garner notes in voice-over: "More people see the Iowa State Fair butter carving winner than do the Super Bowl -- but you wouldn't know that from the Liberal media, not with its bias."

For those of you who like your political allegories obvious, Garner's character is presented as a power-hungry Conservative, with the long flowing hair and the short rigid ideas of someone like Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachman. She intends to enter the butter-carving competition in Burrell's stead, seizing glory and founding a family dynasty of butter-carving victory. There are two impediments to this plan, though. One is Burrell's wandering eye, which brings him afoul of exotic dancer Olivia Wilde -- who promptly sets out to extort, humiliate and shatter Garner and Burrell's marriage, even seducing their daughter, Ashley Greene.

The second, more innocent complication comes in the form of Destiny (Yara Shahedi). Destiny is being bounced between foster families -- the implication suggesting that being African-American in the lily-white wilds of Iowa is bad enough -- but she's finally found a place that makes her happy with Rob Corddry and Alicia Silverstone. And she's a natural at butter carving. So natural that Garner can't have it.

With both Garner and Shahedi providing voice-over, the small-town stakes and the big thematic ideas, "Butter" feels like someone trying to create the lemonade tang and quenching zest of, say, Alexander Payne's "Election." It's too bad director Jim Field-Smith and writer Jason A. Micallef essentially add four excess cups of sugar to the pitcher of their movie, drowning any tartness and bite in syrupy sentiment. Garner's character is so irredeemable (until the film's de rigueur third-act moment of redemption) and Shahedi's character so immediately likable that of course we side with Shahedi, despite her penchant for saying things no 11-year-old would say, like "Can you believe these crackers?" and "White people are weirdos" and using "Ninjas" in the place of that other, more attention-getting N-word.

It's a shame, because Garner is so fully committed, Corddry so warm and Shahedi so winning that you wish they were in a better movie; the production design, props and costuming are tops, too. It's not just that the film's butter-carving team recreates one of the 20th century's saddest moments in butter; it's that it's matched in the competition's finale by another butter carving that, against all logic and sense, is somehow emotionally moving. And Wilde and Burrell make what they can of under-written parts.

We don't know the exact etymology of the word "satire"-- something to do with satyrs, we'd guess? -- but we do know that the word is not Latin for "something with a happy ending that includes a hug." "Butter" tries so hard to bring its characters together -- and give each of them what they want -- that it has to give up jabbing with its fists to hug with open arms. We, for one, wanted the film to stay cold and hard -- the application of artificial warmth makes it a bit gooey and shapeless, its potential edge turned into a blunt lump.

Director Smith previously made the Jay Baruchel rom-com "She's Out of My League," another imperfect film with a good idea and plenty of charm behind it; at some point, through, you hope Smith stops making movies that are better than you might have feared and start making movies that are better than you might have hoped. "Butter" may have had plenty of buzz when it was a hypothetical possible smash, but what wound up on screen suggests that buzzing will wind up turning in to the scattered sound of a few laughs and some half-uttered, half-hearted praise as the audience leaves the theater. [C]

This article is related to: Films, Actors, Actresses, Review, Butter, Rob Corddry, Jennifer Garner, Ashley Greene


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates