The star studded cast of the new film “Butter” may pull movie goers into the theatre, but they will leave talking about Yara Shahidi. Shahidi plays Destiny, a young girl who has bounced around the foster care system, surviving on her wit and not getting too shaken up by what the crazy white people do. All of these experiences have prepared Destiny to play foil to the perfectly coifed Laura Pickler (Jennifer Garner) as both seek to win the Johnson County butter carving championship, and move on to state wide glory at the Iowa State Fair. Pickler is attempting to regain the title that her husband, butter carving legend Bob Pickler (Ty Burrell) has abandoned. Bob has been asked to step aside after 15 years of butter carving domination, to give someone else a chance. Bob seems more than happy to step aside, perhaps to spend more time pursuing his new interest from the wrong side of town, Brooke Swinkowski (Olivia Wilde). Destiny seeks the title, not as a form of rebellion against her new vegan foster family, but because she believes that she has finally found something she is good at.
Laura discovers some technical gifts of her own, based solely on her determination to regain her position in the proper social order. But they are no match for Destiny’s soulful natural talent. So as Laura’s perfect world melts away like butter left out on a hot July day, she enlists the help of an old boyfriend Boyd Bolton, (Hugh Jackman).
There are many outright funny scenes in this film. One of the best is between Destiny and her new foster dad (Rob Corddry) postulating on the worst case scenarios that could occur if she enters the butter carving contest. They are outlandish and funny, but not nearly as hilarious as what actually happens. If you are paying attention, there is a lovely ode to the family dinner scene in “American Beauty,” both in real life and in butter. The families depicted are equally dysfunctional, but in this case more triumphant than tragic. This is Iowa after all. But beware, there’s always an underbelly. Some of the humor is crude and unsuitable for kids.
Garner’s performance as Pickler is hilarious. Her ability to humiliate and admonish those around her is without guilt, even when lying and seeking the ridiculous. She outshines even the best (or worst, depending how you look at it) politician our nation has to offer. Perhaps her calling is not butter, which if you think about it isn’t any crazier than a pizza man running for President.
“Butter” is screenwriter Jason A. Micallef’s first credit. This is Director Jim Field Smith’s second feature film in the director’s chair (She’s out of my League). Most of his previous work is writing and acting in British sketch comedy. The physical humor in the film brings these characters to life in a way that the audience can’t help but laugh at them. Hopefully these two will collaborate again.
Run Time: 90 minutes. Rated: R.
In select theatres October 5, 2012.