January 23, 2013

MOVIES: Butter (Jim Field Smith, 2012)

Butter has a terrific cast (Jennifer Garner, Ty Burrell, Rob Corddry, Alicia Silverstone, Olivia Wilde, Kristen Schaal, and Hugh Jackman) and a workable premise in its warped re-imagining of the Clinton/Obama primary campaign, but the writing falls flat and pounds the obvious notes just a bit too heavily.

Bob Pickler (Burrell) is the King of Butter, defending 15-time champion of the Iowa State Fair's butter sculpture competition. When the fair suggests that it's time for him to retire and let someone else have a chance, he's content to do so, but his wife Laura (Garner) is appalled. That trophy belongs in the Pickler family, she is convinced, so she sets out to win it herself.

And that's when she runs into Destiny (newcomer Yara Shahidi). Destiny is a 10-year-old African-American girl who's spent her life bouncing around the foster care system, having only recently landed in what might become a stable home (Corddry and Silverstone play the potential parents). But she has a prodigy's gift for butter, and Laura does not respond well to this young upstart threatening to take the crown that should be hers.

The performances are pretty good. Garner's never a terribly warm actress, but at her best, she knows how to make that work for her, and it serves her well here as she dives headlong into Laura's ice-queen bitchiness. Burrell's a master of befuddlement; Corddry is utterly charming as a guy who takes naturally to parenting; and Shahidi gets Destiny's tricky balance of innocence and ambition just right.

There are subplots involving adulterous liaisons for both Picklers that don't much help the movie, though Wilde and Jackman are both terrifically funny as the respective lovers. And I think the movie sticks too closely to its obvious political inspiration; we'd get the point even if Destiny weren't also a naturally gifted orator, for instance.

Maybe worth watching if you're a fan of the cast, or if you've got nothing better to do on a Saturday night. And if you go into it without getting your expectations too high, you might get some fun out of it.

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