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Telluride Film Fest Review: Butter Churns Mixed Response, Not Oscar Contender

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood September 5, 2011 at 10:18AM

The Weinstein Co. threw its comedic political allegory Butter into the Telluride fray as a test balloon to see how it would play. While folks around me in the overheated Galaxy were laughing at this overwrought Iowa parable about an obsessive-compulsive woman driven to win a butter-carving contest at all costs (read: Michele Bachmann), star Jennifer Garner can't compare with Nicole Kidman in To Die For. I neither laughed at nor reviled her, I just felt sorry for her.
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Thompson on Hollywood

The Weinstein Co. threw its comedic political allegory Butter into the Telluride fray as a test balloon to see how it would play. While folks around me in the overheated Galaxy were laughing at this overwrought Iowa parable about an obsessive-compulsive woman driven to win a butter-carving contest at all costs (read: Michele Bachmann), star Jennifer Garner can't compare with Nicole Kidman in To Die For. I neither laughed at nor reviled her, I just felt sorry for her.

While the movie played okay with Telluride audiences (although the LAT's John Horn tried to convince me otherwise), it's getting a mixed critical response (a sampling is below) which does not bode well for any award-season hopes. TWC will have a tough time getting audiences between the coasts to see this movie made by smart people making fun of stupid people. This movie could be a tweener, neither smart-house nor populist fare. Remember the New Yorker cartoon with two well-heeled couples sitting on a porch? "We saw Honky Tonk Freeway. It ruined our August."

HitFix:

"A sweet farce that takes unexpected digs at conservative politics, racism, liberals and, yes, the possibly unhealthy passion for butter carving in some Midwestern states,..In many ways, "Butter" has a lot of familiar elements of comedies such as "Juno," "Waitress" and a few Christopher Guest mini-classics ("Best in Show" comes to mind), but the unexpected political jabs and the butter carving culture make it more original than it may appear at first glance,..[Olivia Wilde] pretty much steals the show as a slutty stripper trying to get a little bit of revenge."

ThePlaylist:

"employs long and broad satirical strokes that never land many effective laughs or blows,..Endeavoring to be a political satire, a sex comedy, a quirky character study, a send-up of the competitiveness in our society, and a commentary on race relations, this comedy also desperately wants you to think it’s heart-warming,..Acting problems arise across the board early on."

THR:

"The film is an often edgy comedy masquerading as a political satire about the skullduggery and shenanigans surrounding a butter-carving contest in Iowa,..The film has plenty of laughs and a slew of great supporting turns,..The satire sometimes loses traction, and the competing voice-overs begin to seem random and pointless, but the narrative is clear enough and the laughs well-earned."

UPDATED:

Variety:

Not since Last Tango in Paris has butter been so subversive onscreen as it is in this hypocrisy-skewering, dairy-carving comedy, Butter, a wicked Midwest satire with razor blades stashed beneath its bright candy-apple surface.

First Showing:

The film works on many levels, mostly as a comedy with some hilarious laugh-out-loud moments, but it also has some emotion to it and a good message by the end. The cast, besides Garner who often was far too often over-the-top in her performance, is where this film really shines…
It's a delightful, light indie comedy that hearkens back to Alexander Payne's Election and never takes itself too seriously, but keeps heart at the forefront throughout its humorous story.


This article is related to: Festivals, Genres, Headliners, Stuck In Love, Reviews, Telluride, comedy, Critics


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.