Monday, November 26, 2012

The Cinema File #40: "Butter" Review


I suppose Rise of the Guardians probably would have been better for a milestone 40th review than an obscure indie comedy about butter carving Iowans, but what can I say, I don't plan these out that well.

So I just saw, Butter, a movie that was evidently filmed last year that I've heard about for a while, but only just now got the chance to sit down and watch. It follows several characters, only a few of whom are actually interesting and/or matter to the story, who come together around their state's annual butter sculpture carving competition. Tonally, it's sort of a poor man's version of Alexander Payne's Election with a lot more "Red-Staters are lame" jokes and some increasingly unnecessary raunch thrown in for good measure. In case you didn't hear my anguished sigh just from reading that sentence, allow me to reiterate textually...

*Anguished Sigh*

Alright then. The story is pretty rote once it gets going, and so the best way to view this movie, and thus to review it, is through an examination of the characters. And boy are they trying really hard to convince me how quirky they are. Jennifer Garner put on her best Sarah Palin impression, or is it Michelle Bachmann? It works for a bit, then gets increasingly more grating as the movie goes on. She's basically the paradox of the conservative independent woman, fiercely committed to her own ambition through being arm candy for her regionally famous husband, until the tensions of her marriage give way and she forces herself to go at it alone (it being carving butter, naturally). They try to redeem her somewhat in the end with a brief moment where she reveals at least that she is cognizant of how hollow her life is, but its so unearned as to be mostly just insulting.


Her opponent is a little orphan girl who coincidentally happens to be a natural butter carving prodigy, and enters the contest in order to express herself through her dairy-based art. She seems oblivious to the major conflicts of the film, to the extent that there are any real major conflicts which is arguable, and seems kind of all over the place. It would be giving this movie too much credit to assume that she is consistently characterized in a way that I just can't fathom, and I get the impression that her motives and personality were as much a mystery to the writer as they are to me. And I'm sure I've harped on this before, but the narration she gives throughout the film is probably the most unnecessary I've ever heard. If you're going to put narration in a movie, it had better reveal something that could not have been depicted any other way, and here, they could have and should have excised it completely.

This may sound crude, but thinking back on how pointless her character was to the plot, I'm beginning to wonder if Olivia Wilde's character is only in this movie to dress in skimpy outfits, do a strip tease, and make out with another woman. That's not to say she's a bad actress in this or generally, which she's not, and I certainly enjoyed those moments on a strickly hormonal level, but apart from being the other woman and providing the impetus for certain events, her character is completely meaningless and did not need to come back after the one scene in which she had baring on the plot. To be generous, I would say that if not merely for sex appeal, she was brought in to add some subversiveness to the comedy that would have otherwise been more earnest and, to me, more satisfying, but her extremely tight braless tank top would suggest more insidious motives. Hugh Jackman's adulterous dullard falls into the same category, only there to deliver an admittedly somewhat humorous monologue thanking God for getting him laid. You could have taken both of them out of the movie and removed the whole adultery subplot without hurting the story at all; it just wouldn't have been as crass and adult in the prurient sense.

Completely unnecessary I say!

The only two characters in the movie that stood out for me were the two foster parents played by Alicia Silverstone and Rob Corddry, who are probably the only purely good people in the entire town. The only heart that exists in this film whatsoever that comes across as even half way genuine lies with their steadfast support of their newly adopted daughter. Rob Corddry in particular shines in the role of the oddball new dad, and because he so often plays a sarcastic dick, the nobility of his character in this movie is even more pronounced. Alicia Silverstone probably provides the one truly touching moment in the movie without even saying anything, just by standing in a doorway after a little girl unknowingly says the most hurtful thing she could possibly say to a foster mom. Every time these two were on screen, it felt like a completely different, and much better movie.

Absolutely gratuitous, without question.

All in all Butter is just sort of middling. Its not offensively terrible even if some of the characters are more annoying and much less funny than they seem to think they are. The absurd sculptures we see are often the funniest thing in the movie, especially the final one made by Garner's character, but if statues made of fatty food stuffs are the highlight of your film, even considering the name, I think you have a problem. There are a few bright spots, but I can't quite say there are enough to sustain a whole movie.

Exploitative even...
I could throw in some hacky line to end this, like how the quality melted too fast, you know, like butter, but fuck it, this movie doesn't deserve the amount of time it would take me to think of anything clever.

Or maybe a Last Tango In Paris joke...nah, forget it. I'm out.

Alright, forget all that shit I said, I'm on board.
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