Review of Butter

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A satire film starring Jennifer Garner as Laura Pickler, the wife of the longtime winner of a local butter-carving contest. When he decides to bow out of this year's competition, she can't imagine the family not having the title, so she begins to train herself. Her biggest rival turns out to be a young adopted African-American girl named Destiny (Yara Shahidi), who has a natural gift for sculpture. Directed by Jim Field Smith and written by Jason Micallef, Butter also stars Olivia Wilde, Hugh Jackman, Ashley Greene, Ty Burrell & Alicia Silverstone.
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Movie Review: "Butter"

--Rating: R (sexual content, language)
Length: 90 minutes
Release Date: September 4, 2012
Directed by: Jim Field Smith
Genre: Comedy

Many comedies attempt to incorporate additional genres to capture a wider audience. "Butter" succeeds by avoiding the pitfalls of unnecessary drama or suspense, although fans of comedy movies may find the dark humor a bit much at times.

The movie focuses on the story of Laura Pickler (Jennifer Garner) as she attempts to reclaim the title that her husband, Bob Pickler (Ty Burrell), once held and has decided to no longer pursue. Laura seeks to become the greatest butter carver in Iowa. She quickly discovers that she faces stiff competition from a 10-year-old prodigy named Destiny (Yara Shahidi). Further competition comes in the form of Bob's biggest fan, Carol-Ann (Kristen Schaal), and his would-be paramour, Brooke (Olivia Wilde).

The acting in this movie showcases the talents of some of the cast, while seriously downplaying the skills of others. Garner and Burrell steal the show in most of their scenes, but Schaal and Wilde often come off as cardboard cut-outs or parodies of the characters they are supposed to represent. Shahidi performs exceptionally well as a child actor. Her parents, played by Alicia Silverstone and Rob Corddry, eclipse almost every other actor in the short appearances they make on stage. Viewers are likely to notice the mugging for the camera that Silverstone and Corddry regularly engage in and may not be sure if it's an intentional part of the movie or simply overacting.

The filmography is everything you'd expect from a comedy. The camera angles stay fairly distant from the characters on the screen unless a close-up or quick pan is needed to deliver a joke. The transitions are reminiscent of music videos or other quick-moving genres. Such transitions help viewers make the switch between the many characters and viewpoints that the story attempts to convey.

Words flow effortlessly due to an apparently well-written script. The movie avoids any pretense of multiple subplots or intrigue, opting instead for obvious humor and snide comments that are more likely to elicit a snicker or chuckle than all-out laughter. This is a good thing, as the humor takes deliberately darker turns as the film progresses. Moviegoers are likely to begin to feel that they are part of the in-jokes towards the end of the film, and that sense of immersion comes as much from the scripted jokes as from their delivery.

The rapid transitions do not harm the overall pacing of the film. The pacing does stumble in some areas, however, and this is most notable at the middle of the film. It can be difficult for directors to avoid including a traditional moment of despair in the middle of the movie, and the attempt in this film falls flat. The pacing is thrown off in the center of the film after a smoothly flowing opening, and only picks up again when the film starts to reach its climax. After the botched middle, the later part of the film takes on an almost formulaic aspect that diverges from the less forced atmosphere that prevails at the beginning of the film.

"Butter" shows signs of directorial ambivalence. The director appears to have been torn between whether or not to involve Destiny, the 10-year-old prodigy, in the sexual humor and dark comedy that dominate the film. This indecision may leave some viewers squirming in their seats as it's never quite clear whether or not she's in on the sometimes lurid jokes. The movie's finale continues this ambiguity, even though the pacing picks up and the plot comes to its logical conclusion. Directorial confusion also shows through in scenes involving Destiny's parents. Such scenes seem almost an afterthought, providing a cameo to Silverstone and Corddry, and rarely add anything to the story.

The pacing problems do not detract too much from the film, and the indecision regarding Destiny's place in the plot seems almost intentional at points. Many elements of the film come together to create a unified whole that is likely to please many viewers. The acting and filmography are top-notch, even when the actors seem to be fighting for space on camera. The script delivers one punchline after another and keeps moviegoers guessing as to what sort of joke lies just around the corner. Keeping viewers off balance with nonstop jokes is a staple of comedic films these days, and "Butter" pulls this off beautifully.

"Butter" is likely to make a great date-night movie or a film perfect for a night out with friends. Its uncomplicated plot and raw humor may go over well with college students or those looking for a fun time without a lot of introspection.

Rating: 3 out of 5