Butter (2011)

(On Cable TV, December 2014) I like discovering small-scale movies lurking in the late-night schedules of specialized cable channels.  You can often end up with competent fare such as Butter, a cynical comedy about Midwestern alienation, resentment and butter carving.  It’s not exactly a hidden gem featuring unknown actors: Jennifer Garner stars as a driven housewife, while Olivia Wilde plays a vengeful stripper and Hugh Jackman shows up for a small but entirely ridiculous role.  The story revolves around a woman taking up butter carving at a very competitive level after her husband’s retirement, only to be challenged by a young black girl with unusual natural talent for the craft.  Butter comes up decently when it’s most focused on the silliness of its characters given the low stakes surrounding them.  (Wilde’s character is preposterous, but despite her dodgy motivations the film simply feels funnier when she’s on-screen.)  There’s a bit of heart alongside the cynicism (most notably when Rob Corddry opens up with his foster daughter), but enough gags here and there to justify the time.  Butter does miss a number of its targets: There are obvious parallels here with the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination process, but they end up being more distracting than amusing.  The film does take place in a slightly-altered comic reality when characters often behave in ways more outrageous than realistic, and it may have been interesting to see the script commit even more broadly to this kind of absurdity.  Still, it’s tough to begrudge such a modest comedy, especially given the various pointed barbs it’s willing to feature. 

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