Telluride 2011: Jennifer Garner spreads ‘Butter’ at festival


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There’s no shortage of serious subjects at this weekend’s Telluride Film Festival, including new movies about obsession (“Shame”), infidelity (“The Descendants”), the death penalty (“Into the Abyss”) and climate change (“The Island President”).

But the lineup isn’t all grim, and one of this year’s sneak previews — Jennifer Garner’s “Butter” — is as broad a satirical comedy as Telluride has ever shown.


After not getting into this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the makers of the movie about backroom intrigue, sexual dalliances and sabotage at an Iowa butter carving competition fine-tuned their movie, bringing it to Telluride for its world premiere.

Garner, who also produced, plays Laura Pickler, who with husband Bob (Ty Burrell) eats, sleeps and drinks butter carving -- transforming massive blocks of the stuff into three-dimensional tableaux.

When Bob, whose prize-winning butter sculptures include depictions of Newt Gingrich on horseback, “Schindler’s List” and the Last Supper, is asked not to compete because he wins too often, Laura decides she will take up the family’s carving knives.

At first, Laura may remind some people of certain right-wing political candidates — she complains about “the liberal media” and says “I believe in America, I believe we’re the best” — but it’s swiftly apparent that she’s actually a bit nuts.

When she discovers that her husband has been sharing more than a lap dance with a local stripper (a heavily tattooed and nearly naked Olivia Wilde), Laura’s determination to churn up a killer butter carving grows a little too intense.

If Laura’s going to lard her trophy case with another carving prize, she must first defeat Destiny (Yara Shahidi), a 10-year-old African American girl whose butter work includes a staggering rendering of Harriet Tubman on a freedom train — complete with an all-butter cloud of smoke coming from its locomotive.

To help improve her chances, Laura enlists former boyfriend Boyd Bolton (Hugh Jackman) to launch some dairy damage against Destiny.

Unlike several of the new features debuting in this former mining town, “Butter,” whose release date hasn’t been set by the Weinstein Co., doesn’t have awards aspirations. Its udder heart rests with what you smear on your toast, on a much larger scale.


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-- John Horn in Telluride, Colo.