Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Micallef and director Jim Field Smith (She's Out of My League) take the bizarrely niche subject of a Midwestern butter carving competition as the staple for their Election-like satire on the nubs of humanity, distilling enough stale red state condensation to make even the most sternest liberal cry uncle. Jennifer Garner plays Laura Pickler, scheming social climber and near royalty in her small Iowa farm town where her husband Bob (Ty Burrell, Modern Family) is the butter carving king. Garner enriches her all-American hellion with a thick Sarah Palin-like cadence and an arsenal of haughty glares-- her performance is flat, but the film doesn't give her much to do than tiredly meld together Reese Witherspoon's Tracy Flick and Annette Bening's Carolyn Burnham, hoping that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. When Bob's tenure all butter king is tossed aside from political pressure from above, Laura decides it upon herself to keep the Pickler name alive. Never mind the little item that Bob has just pissed off a stripper/prostitute (gamely played by Olivia Wilde)-- the Picklers are America routine is what's paramount. Laura's competition comes in the form of a naturally talented butter sculptor, a grade school aged African American foster child named Destiny (Yara Shahidi)-- allusions to Laura's Palin-esque need for the spotlight and Destiny's Obama-esque idealism the closest Butter gets to thematic subtlety. Along for the ride are Hugh Jackman as a dimwit used car salesman and Rob Corddry and Alicia Silverstone as Destiny's liberal adoptive parents.
The ugly and fatal flaw of Butter is that it assumes that by nearly name-checking and trying to associate itself tonally with films like Election, American Beauty and Best in Show, then half the job is done with. Yet ultimately the film is as desperate as Laura Pickler herself in that it's all bite and zero substance and despite the very R-rated, pushed up dialogue for the sole use of shock value, it stalls to a thrashing thud. Harvey's decision to quietly bury this nasty and spineless little movie turned out to be the most humane one. F