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.
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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
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.
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.