The art of sculpting huge blocks of fat is the focus of a strange-but-true competitive event at the Iowa State Fair. Wielding trowels with the utmost precision, carvers ply their craft in temperature-controlled booths.
In contrast, "Butter," which uses a local lead-up to that bout as the battleground setting for hit-and-miss
Wavering between tepid celebration and ham-fisted ridicule of this slice of Americana, the movie is essentially as condescending as its main character. She's a ruthless, flag-waving xenophobe, well-played by
Having enjoyed the cachet of her husband's longtime reign as Iowa's butter-carving champ, Laura doesn't take it well when easygoing Bob (
Laura is a character overripe for comeuppance, which Jason A. Micallef's screenplay delivers, none too subtly, in the form of a little girl named Destiny (
She's also apparently the only African-American for miles around and has understandably reached the conclusion that "white people are weird." Her new foster parents (
Neither, it seems, can the film, which compiles an assortment of sculpture subjects designed to provoke giggles: a horse-riding Newt Gingrich, "
Micallef's debut screenplay, well regarded in Hollywood (it placed high on the Black List of unproduced scripts and won the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science's Nicholl Scholarship), takes superficial swipes at hypocrisy. Laura is squeaky-clean in public and swears like a sailor in private — hardly the stuff of penetrating social observation.
An uncharacteristically light-handed aside has the bent-on-success meanie listening to an audiobook of "The Secret" — a nice touch, even if the new age slant doesn't jibe with her Middle American aura.
More than holding up the earnest side of this bifurcated story are the nuanced performances of Burrell, Corddry, Silverstone and Shahidi. Garner effectively accentuates Laura's ludicrousness, and on that front the film also benefits from turns by a typically goofy Kristen Schaal (
Given the talent assembled for this diversion, you can't believe it's not better.
'Butter' -- 1 star
MPAA rating: R (for language, sexual content and brief drug use)
Running time: 1:32