This is a film directed by a guy you have never heard of and written by another guy you’ve never heard of but it stars Jennifer Garner (Pearl Harbor, Elektra) as a fame-crazy Iowan housewife desperately trying to stay in the spotlight of her husband’s successful butter carving career after he is asked to retire. I had to reread that sentence a few times to make sure it was accurate (it is) and I know that it doesn’t immediately have a lot of appeal right away but bear with me. This movie is also about a young foster child named Destiny who discovers her own butter carving skills and decides to enter the state competition while in the care of Rob Corddry (The Daily Show, Hot Tub Time Machine) and Alicia Silverstone (Hideaway, Batman and Robin). Wait. Come back. Seriously hold on, I know that doesn’t exactly sound like a good time but it really is. Because although it has the premise of a particularly odd Lifetime Original Movie it also has the language and explicit content of an adult comedy drama you’d find on HBO or Showtime. This is both the greatest strength and weakness of this film; it straddles the fence between heartwarming story about a sweet, courageous young girl and a pretty hilarious mockery of small town affectations, an R-rated version of Best in Show minus the improvisation.
So Butter occupies this niche market that appeals to people who don’t mind a healthy amount of profane in their sacred. It’s a film that you would love to share with your kids but there is no possible way that you can do that given the amount of sex and profanity. The message is a pretty healthy one, like a more serious film I’ve recently reviewed (Mud) and it is that the honesty and clarity of heart that a child possesses can cut through all the nonsense that adults have a tendency to create around themselves. It’s that wisdom and age are not mutually inclusive concepts, in fact, privilege, success, and experience can completely distort our values as adults if we don’t take the time to realize we’re trying to be happy in the first place. To put a finer point on it, grown ups can be total assholes for the weirdest reasons and that can be really funny in the right light.
I’ve liked Jennifer Garner for a long time, Alias holds a special place in my heart but I can’t say I can remember a performance from her since that show that has been particularly memorable. However, in this film she is pretty spectacular, playing against type as the arrogant, despicably self-involved Laura Pickler, a tornado of a woman disguised as a prototypical Midwestern housewife desperately trying to maintain her husband’s (and therefore her) small town celebrity status. She struggles to maintain her relevancy at the expense of her family’s dignity even going so far as to manipulate a hilariously idiotic former boyfriend portrayed by Hugh Jackman. I have a genuine appreciation for A-list sex symbol actors that are willing to play stupid boorish characters in small movies for fun (the Coen brothers have a particular knack for making George Clooney into a buffoon)(I love that word, buffoon). In fact, the entire cast is pretty damn entertaining. I discovered I really like Rob Corddry playing a decent considerate adult character as opposed to his normal buffoonery (I’ll stop). And Olivia Wilde, well, she is pretty surprising and better experienced than described. The A-list sex symbol sentiment from before applies to her as well.
This film slipped through the cracks and I understand why. It’s not because it’s bad or boring, it’s neither of these things. To the contrary I laughed hard and often. But it’s too crass to appeal to the traditional family audience, and too sentimental to belong in any specific stable of comedy films. Is it a little heavy handed and treacly at times? Sure. But I have a soft spot for that kind of thing, I don’t mind tearing up if it’s for a good reason. Laughing, crying, and thinking all in the same movie makes for a pretty satisfying day. The butter carving is an odd subject to move the story along but the movie is fully aware of it and for once the butter is a vehicle for something else instead of the other way around (I’m looking at you, lobster). So check it out if you’re looking for something to watch it is absolutely worth a viewing. Because this Butter is actually good for your heart.
Not proud of that. Not one bit.