It’s not every day that you see a full-length film about butter. Jim Field Smith‘s Butter is exactly that, a comedy about the cut-throat butter sculpting world and the nutcases that inhabit it. Jennifer Garner injects her usual brand of obsessive humor into the film, while other supporting actors try sprinkling a little bit of comedy over the film’s drier parts. Butter isn’t all that funny or even interesting enough to warrant a watch, making it an unstable film that tries balancing on the concept alone and nothing else.
Laura Pickler (Jennifer Garner) is a self-obsessed on-edge control freak that cannot lose. She’s the puppeteer wife of accomplished butter sculptor Bob Pickler (Ty Burrell) and whenever she’s not showboating during one of Bob’s award ceremonies she’s probably trying her hand at the politics of the butter sculpting world. When Bob reveals that he’s no longer going to be sculpting anymore for the yearly competition she loses her cool.
She can’t live in a world where she isn’t the center of the spotlight, so she enlists as a sculptor and sets out to prove Bob and the rest of the town wrong. Bob doesn’t really seem to care and ends up getting caught up with a stripper named Brooke (Olivia Wilde). Brooke now wants money for her and Bob’s “exchanges” and Laura just wants Bob to be supportive and to come home.
Things get even more confusing when a young orphan named Destiny (Yara Shahidi) enters the competition and proves to be something of a sculpting master. She gives Laura a run for her money and promises a challenge that Laura might not be able to overcome.
Butter is a combination of all of these little details and it rarely amounts to anything special. One focus of the film is Jennifer Garner‘s Laura and all of the people she has to deal with, like her husband, her daughter-in-law and her old friend Boyd Bolton (Hugh Jackman). None of these character interactions are all that special, because Garner simply approaches the entire film with that crazed look in her eye. She’s bitchy and just unlikable from every angle, making the character sort of a chore to watch. Ty Burrell‘s role is that of the husband that doesn’t really care and Jackman briefly represents the old high school flame that she calls upon for a favor.
The other half of the film focuses on Yara Shahidi‘s Destiny, the young orphan that finds a new family (Rob Corddry and Alicia Silverstone) and a new interest in life. Destiny desperately wants a place to call home and something to be good at, so we follow her as she becomes an established sculptor that gains friends and family in the process.
There’s also the Olivia Wilde factor that can’t go unnoticed. Wilde’s character fits into both of these stories, acting as the mistake for Burrell’s Bob that is hung over his head in shame, while also playing as the friend to Destiny. She simply hates Laura and wants to see her burn regardless, so she’s forced into scenes whenever comedic spice is needed.
Jim Field Smith‘s direction is confusing and misguided. Butter rarely sticks as a comedy, because most of the jokes are prematurely discharged. Nothing is given proper build up and nothing ever lands at the right moments. There’s some good subtle humor that works whenever Corddry and Shahidi have a moment or two together, but most of the humor comes off as too obvious or just flat-out dumb. There’s a lot of racial humor that is supposed to get points for the shock-factor or blunt delivery, but it’s just poorly conceived and in bad spirit.
It also conflicts with some of the more dramatic moments that try to poke through all of the dud humor. Shahidi’s character is mostly serious, yet every time there’s an extended scene with her opening up and revealing something personal, director Jim Field Smith chooses to follow that with a rude interruption by Jennifer Garner that is supposed to play out as funny or weird, but ends up being rather off-putting and goes against the specific scene’s intentions.
The world of butter sculpting or carving isn’t the main attraction in this comedy surrounded with political and racial undertones, yet it should have been. I would have been much more pleased with a film that gives you the real look behind-the-scenes of the butter world, but instead Jim Field Smith delivers a pedestrian comedy that only works momentarily because of some good casting, but mostly fails because of the clash between attempted edgy comedy and superficial seriousness.
Butter – 6/10