Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Jim Field Smith and Jason A. Micallef whip BUTTER into an odd, off-key amusement

A strange mix of satire, sweetness, sentimentality and snark, BUTTER would seem to be the kind of movie that wants to have its cake (with butter-cream frosting, of course) and eat it, too. One of the film's surprises is how often it manages to get away with this. Butter is the second ensemble movie I've covered in as many days to have a crack cast of seven actors, all working at the top of their form. This alone makes both films worth seeing. If yesterday's The Oranges outshines the expensive spread in just about every way, in this case second place is perfectly good enough. Butter, despite some flaws, is definitely worth seeing.

Written by Jason A. Micallef and directed by Jim Field Smith (who's shown at right), this is one of those American "heartland" movies that our heartland states most likely despise -- even though, on balance, the population comes off no more or less likable than the New Jersey-based folk of The Oranges. (The heartland's problems, as pictured here however, may strike some viewers as a tad less sophisticated, if no less important, as those on the east coast.)

The plot involves the yearly butter-sculpting competition and the Picklers, Bob (Ty Burrell, two photos below, at right) and Laura (Jennifer Garner, below). Bob is always the winner in the competition, and so, after many years of this, the town's mayor asks him to step down and give others a chance. He does, sadly, which annoys the hell out of the nasty, grasping and ambitious Laura, who decides to enter the contest herself.

Complications ensue, involving an exotic dancer at the local strip joint (Olivia Wilde, below, left, in a very different role for this young lady -- which she handles with utter, low-end aplomb) and an uber-sweet/sad/silent orphan girl named Destiny -- yikes! -- played by Yara Shahidi, who -- despite the filmmakers' stacking the deck so strongly for her than we are inclined to root against her -- is quite appealing.

Also in the cast are the likes of Ashley Greene (shown at bottom, center) -- who, though she proved of no particular note in those Twilight movies, here registers more strongly as the Pickler's daughter -- and Hugh Jackman (below) in a smaller and rather different role as an old flame of Laura's called in to help.

Best of all, perhaps are the "nice" couple who come to the rescue of young Destiny. As played by Rob Corddry (below, left: This kind of role is quite a change for our Rob, who more often plays Mr. Snark) and Alicia Silverstone (below, second left). These two add a note of normalcy to the proceedings, which are ever threatening to go totally out of control. (This actually might have  been the best choice for the film.)

The biggest problem with Butter is its unevenness. Does it want to be a satire? A feel-good film? An expose of the heartland? A political movie? (According to Wikipedia, the film is said to be a satire of the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary, but you couldn't prove it by me.) All of the above? By the finale, we really don't know. But we have laughed a good deal, while enjoying a bevy of fine performances, in a film about a subject of which, till now, we knew next to nothing. These days, you could do a hell of a lot worse.

Butter -- from RADIUS/TWC (please do something about your atrociously feeble web site!) and running 90 minutes -- opens this Friday, in the Los Angeles area at the AMC Loews Brodway in Santa Monica, and in New York at the Beekman, Empire 25, Village 7 and the Kew Gardens Cinema (in Queens).  Elsewhere? Who knows where or when?  Tell The Weinstein Company to improve on this.

No comments: