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2013/06/16

Butter

by Lisa Adamowicz Kless


My cousin and I have similar offbeat senses of humor, so when I asked her for some recommendations of TV shows to watch on Netflix recently, she named a few, and then added in that she thought I might like the movie Butter too. Being born and raised in Wisconsin, the great dairy state, surely I also had some sort of moral or patriotic obligation to watch a film with one of the chief dairy products as its title, didn't I? So I settled in one night, typed Butter into the Netflix search feature, and found that, once again, my cousin's suggestions were spot on.

Not everyone may get the same laughs out of the movie as my cousin and I did, but if you like some dark humor and quirkiness with your entertainment, you'll probably enjoy it. With a basic story line centering on Bob Pickler (Modern Family's Ty Burrell), the long-standing champion in an Iowa state butter carving contest, and his high-strung wife, Laura (Jennifer Garner), Butter has a great cast, with basically everyone shining in their role. Olivia Wilde plays an exotic dancer, Brooke, whose run-ins with Bob prove to be much more than he bargained for. Young actor Yara Shahidi is Destiny, a foster child placed with a family in the town, who has uncanny artistic talent. Alicia Silverstone plays Destiny's nervous foster mom, Jill, and frequent The Daily Show correspondent Rob Corddry is excellent as her foster dad, Ethan. Then there's Hugh Jackman in a hilarious role so far removed from Wolverine that it makes one pause and appreciate the depth of his acting skills. Though all of the cast was great, for me, my favorite was Corddry as Ethan. In the midst of a slew of crazy, ever-so-slightly shy of over the top characters, Ethan is pretty much one of the only mostly sane, "normal" people, with a playfulness and sensibility that sets him apart.  With Destiny having been ping-ponged around from foster home to foster home, the humor, support, and stability that Ethan provides (along with Silverstone's Jill) helps her to gain self-confidence and start to piece together a sense of her place in the world.

Brooke (Olivia Wilde), out to help Destiny (Yara Shahidi)  topple the Pickler butter carving empire
To get back to the plot without giving too much away, Bob Pickler has enjoyed over a decade of fame as the reigning butter carving champ. Laura, his staunchest supporter during that time, is livid when the judging committee suggests that Bob should allow someone else to have a chance to enjoy the glory. She decides that stepping aside will not be an option (no matter what Bob himself wants), so when Destiny enters the picture and threatens to undermine what Laura sees as the Pickler legacy, all bets are off.
Hayden (Brett Hill), Destiny (Yara Shahidi), Ethan (Rob Corddry) and Jill (Alicia Silverstone) wonder what she's up against

There's a definite undertone of political commentary in the film, but most of it is played to an extreme for laughs. The same with other references that are sprinkled throughout; if you have a loose grasp on American pop culture, you're going to get a giggle, at the very least, out of some of the scenes.

The stand out moments for me, though, came in the little touches of humor that were simply ridiculous perfection; as Wilde's character, Brooke, is in the middle of a routine on her pole, the cell phone that she has tucked into her waistband goes off. Without missing a beat, she types out a text message as she keeps gyrating. Then there's a scene in a community center, completely empty except for Laura and another woman. Laura has to get up to the front to the desk the woman is seated at, so she zigzags through an absurd maze of the retractable barricades that one might find in a bank or an airport to keep lines orderly, a huge, polite smile plastered on her face the entire time. And to avoid being a total spoiler, I won't explain the couple of scenes where Hugh Jackman's character is alone and speaking out loud; again, examples of ridiculous perfection.

Jackman goes from an X-Man to a car salesman
Still, for all of its silliness and social commentary, the film has a few genuinely touching moments. These help ground the movie a bit, keeping it from being too campy and laugh-a-minute.

It might be an odd thing to end on, but I can't help but come back to the butter.  The "butter" sculptures in the film, the subjects rendered (the Last Supper and the assassination of John F. Kennedy, to name just a couple) and the intention behind their depiction are just another part of the equation that add to the overall movie. You have to suspend your disbelief in a few scenes where butter sculptures are held in someone's hand and don't melt at all, but I can't help but wonder what the behind the scenes process was like to make these props. If there was a DVD with bonus footage, I'd truly be interested in how artists created the sculptures and what was needed to make them look like they were really carved from huge chunks of real butter.  And in case you think that butter sculpting and competitions are just a funny premise made up for a movie, not at all.  The US, Canada, and even Tibetan Buddhists have a history of using butter as an artistic tool.

Laura (Jennifer Garner) prepares for victory
To get more information on the rest of the cast, the production team, etc. check out Butter's IMDb page here: www.imdb.com/title/tt1349451.

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