Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
How Quentin Tarantino & Robert Rodriguez Made Josh Brolin's 'No Country For Old Men' Audition Tape How Quentin Tarantino & Robert Rodriguez Made Josh Brolin's 'No Country For Old Men' Audition Tape Josh Brolin Says He's Starring With Jessica Chastain In A Movie About George Jones & Tammy Wynette Josh Brolin Says He's Starring With Jessica Chastain In A Movie About George Jones & Tammy Wynette Watch: Robert Richardson Explains Why He Took His Name Off 'World War Z' And More In 58-Minute Cinematographer Talk Watch: Robert Richardson Explains Why He Took His Name Off 'World War Z' And More In 58-Minute Cinematographer Talk George Miller Says He Originally Wanted The Music In 'Mad Max: Fury Road' To Only Come From The Doof Warrior George Miller Says He Originally Wanted The Music In 'Mad Max: Fury Road' To Only Come From The Doof Warrior Stephen King Says Stanley Kubrick's 'The Shining' Is "Like A Big, Beautiful Cadillac With No Engine Inside It" Stephen King Says Stanley Kubrick's 'The Shining' Is "Like A Big, Beautiful Cadillac With No Engine Inside It" Review: Coen Brothers' 'Hail, Caesar!' Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, And More Review: Coen Brothers' 'Hail, Caesar!' Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, And More Naomi Watts Confirmed For David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’ Revival; Tom Sizemore Joins Cast Naomi Watts Confirmed For David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’ Revival; Tom Sizemore Joins Cast Watch: Quentin Tarantino Talks 5 Movies To Watch Before 'The Hateful Eight' In 7-Minute Video Watch: Quentin Tarantino Talks 5 Movies To Watch Before 'The Hateful Eight' In 7-Minute Video SAG Award Winners: ‘Spotlight’ Wins Best Ensemble, Leonardo DiCaprio, Idris Elba & Brie Larson Also Score Big SAG Award Winners: ‘Spotlight’ Wins Best Ensemble, Leonardo DiCaprio, Idris Elba & Brie Larson Also Score Big Review: ‘Jane Got A Gun’ Starring Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton & Ewan McGregor Review: ‘Jane Got A Gun’ Starring Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton & Ewan McGregor Mel Gibson Gave Nate Parker Advice On Making 'The Birth Of A Nation' Mel Gibson Gave Nate Parker Advice On Making 'The Birth Of A Nation' The 25 Most Anticipated New TV Shows Of 2016 The 25 Most Anticipated New TV Shows Of 2016 The 20 Best Documentaries Of 2015 The 20 Best Documentaries Of 2015 The 20 Best Films Of 2015 The 20 Best Films Of 2015 The 25 Best Action Movies Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Action Movies Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Sci-Fi Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Sci-Fi Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far Terry Gilliam Talks The "Simplistic" Films Of Steven Spielberg, Dumbing Down Of Audiences, 'Don Quixote' Start Date & More Terry Gilliam Talks The "Simplistic" Films Of Steven Spielberg, Dumbing Down Of Audiences, 'Don Quixote' Start Date & 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