Butter is one of those brilliantly written films that is a joy to watch. Screenwriter Jason Micallef’s script was so good, it won him a prestigious Nicholl fellowship in 2008, one of only five such awards handed out to writers by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Now his script has been brought to the big screen and the finished product is a real winner.
Jennifer Garner is “Laurie Pickler”, an Iowa woman who is very proud of the fact that her husband “Bob Pickler” (Ty Burrell) has won the State Excellent in Butter Carving Competition for 15 straight years, with amazing sculptures like his “Last Supper” and “Schindler’s List” that are simply breathtaking. But after fifteen years, the panel of judges feel that he should step down and let someone else have a shot at the glory.
Laurie doesn’t like this idea. She believes the championship belongs to her family and if Bob won’t compete, she will. Hopefully alone, but three other women show up to enter the competition. “Carol Ann” (Kristen Schaal) is a “friend” of Laurie’s and of butter carving but her talents with a trowel are an unknown. Then there is “Destiny” (Yara Shahidi) who is a foster child that’s been bounced from home to home. Currently she’s living with “Ethan Emmet” (Rob Corddry) and his wife “Julie” (Alicia Silverstone) and they’ve made it clear they want to keep her. She says she isn’t good at anything but it’s obvious she has a gift for butter carving. And for understatement about the flaws of “white people”.
The fourth contestant is a woman named “Brooke Swinkowski” (Olivia Wilde) to whom we are introduced when Bob storms out of the Pickler house and goes to a local strip club where she rocks his world. They move into the back of his van and they’re getting it on when they are rudely and violently interrupted. Brooke is very angry with Laurie for the interruption and because she didn’t get paid. So she’s making it her goal in life to ensure Laurie loses this competition.
Destiny wins the local event but Laurie gets help from her old boyfriend “Boyd Bolton” (Hugh Jackman) a local car dealer and as a result of the machinations, Laurie and Destiny will face off in a carve-off at the State Fair in front of witnesses and so no one can tamper with the event.
Jim Field Smith’s direction of Jason Micallef’s inspiring script is excellent. Garner shines as the flawed Laurie Pickler who appears as the perfect wife and partner to everyone, while being a profane Machiavellian sort who will stop at nothing to achieve her goals, because she’s convinced that in the end, all she has is butter. She’s Sarah Palin but worse and Garner’s portrayal is just hysterical. Burrell’s hapless Bob, who ought to have “whipped” tattooed on his forehead is also an excellent performance. Silverstone and particularly Corddry also deliver strong turns as the loving couple who want to take Destiny not just into their home, but into their hearts. “Ethan” is almost a perfect father.
But it’s relative newcomer Shahidi as “Destiny” who manages to steal every scene she’s in. Not just with the wonderful dialogue that was written for the role either. She is a natural and while she has stated her goal is to be a historian, that would be a waste of terrific talent in the arena of acting.
Butter is biting satire that entertains throughout.