Telluride Review: Jennifer Garner's Delightful Indie Comedy 'Butter'
by Alex Billington
September 4, 2011
One of the surprise secret screenings at the Telluride Film Festival this year was the upcoming indie comedy Butter, a high ranking Black List script by Jason A. Micallef, directed by Jim Field Smith (She's Out of My League). Set in conservative Iowa, the film is about the state competition of mastery in butter carving, and what went down one year to push loving, cutesy, conservative wife Laura Pickler (played by Jennifer Garner) to the brink of madness. Garner not only stars, but is a producer, making this very much her film, but it is the rest of the very talented and diverse cast that makes this such an enjoyable American comedy.
Butter is indeed about butter carving, with a bit of a hint of American politics. Laura Pickler (Garner) is the wife of Bob Pickler (played incredibly well by Ty Burrell), the reigning 15 year butter carving champion, whose pieces include Schindler's List and The Last Supper. When he's asked to move on, Laura can't deal with the lack of fame and glory, and decides to compete herself, but encounters the unlikeliest competitor - a 10-year-old foster care African-American girl named Destiny (played by Yara Shahidi), who has a natural talent for carving impeccable butter sculptures. One could say it's a metaphor for America, and Garner is representative of Michele Bachmann and/or Sarah Palin, but I feel like that's reading into it a bit too much.
The film works on many levels, mostly as a comedy with some hilarious laugh-out-loud moments, but it also has some emotion to it and a good message by the end. The cast, besides Garner who often was far too often over-the-top in her performance, is where this film really shines. Not only with Destiny (Yara Shahidi) and Bob (Ty Burrell), but supporting cast members including Olivia Wilde as a stripper (just wait until you see her in this), Hugh Jackman as a car salesman, Kristen Schaal as an avid Pickler fan, Ashley Greene as the Pickler's daughter, and Alicia Silverstone and Rob Corddry as Destiny's foster parents. If you can believe it, Rob Corddry gives one of the best dramatic performances of his career, standing out in the crowd.
While I thoroughly enjoyed Butter, I don't think it has much Oscar potential, it's just not that kind of film. It's very well-written, adequately directed, and entertaining from start to finish, but doesn't really seem like an Academy film. The lasting impressions it left on me are that you can indeed take any subject and make it into a good story (butter carving - who would've thought?) and that Rob Corddry has much more potential than anyone seems to realize. It's a delightful, light indie comedy that hearkens back to Alexander Payne's Election and never takes itself too seriously, but keeps heart at the forefront throughout its humorous story.
Alex's Telluride Rating: 8 out of 10