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

by Anne Thompson
September 5, 2011 10:18 AM
5 Comments
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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.


5 Comments

  • Red monkey | September 14, 2011 6:51 AMReply

    Anyway, when was the last time a satire won an Oscar? Humor differs too much from person to person to get a consensus. Comedies, even the best ones - perhaps especially the best ones, always get mixed reviews.

  • MJR | September 14, 2011 5:28 AMReply

    "...Iowa parable about an obsessive-compulsive woman driven to win a butter-carving contest at all costs (read: Michele Bachmann)..."

    Although I understand the comparison between Jennifer Garner's performance and Michele Bachmann, let's not forget that this film was written long before Michele Bachmann had any sort of national impact on our politics and it's staggering to me how many critics correctly label this film a political allegory while entirely missing or ignoring the REAL comparison (read: Hilary Clinton). This story is clearly a political allegory of the 2008 DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY.

  • YZ | September 6, 2011 3:56 AMReply

    Strange that you ignore the Daily Variety rave review (which appeared hours before your piece) and several other positive internet reviews in order to write a commentary that matches your response to the film. Thus far the overall response to Butter is far from mixed. Why not identify your piece as opinion rather than trying to pass it off as some reasoned analysis?

  • MDL | September 6, 2011 3:36 AMReply

    The idea that Miramax would do a 'test balloon' screening at a festival or that Telluride would allow it is a bit depressing, really. You'd like to think they want to present they best they can find - and surely there are a good number of films out there waiting to be seen. Granted Telluride does usually have a high quality films.

  • Lena | September 6, 2011 2:42 AMReply

    I second that YZ! Also looks like Anne can't respond to any film without the prism of "Oscar" chances. Must be miserable.

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