Now enter Destiny (Yara Shahidi), a 10-year old orphan, who thinks she isn’t good at anything until she sees Bob’s latest butter sculpture. This is her calling, so she enters the Johnson County competition alongside Laura. Also entering the contest is – Carol-Ann (Kristen Schaal in a dead ringer for her Mel character from “Flight of the Conchords”) who is Bob’s biggest fan and Brooke (Olivia Wilde), the local stripper (who looked surprisingly like Diablo Cody, herself a former stripper) whom Bob is inexplicably having an affair with and gets caught by Laura. Brooke enters just to spite the ultra-uptight, right-wing Laura who is appalled that her henpecked husband was cheating on her with a stripper. Hijinks ensure as the competition boils down to a rematch between Destiny and Laura for the right to represent Johnson County at the fair.
The execution of the film is something a big, sloppy mess as the story and characters veer all over the place as the film winds down to its highly predictable denouement. Butter is never quite sure of what kind of movie it really wants to be – is it a satire of the uppity Christian right-wingers like Laura? Is it a raunchy black comedy? Is it a feelgood, family comedy of a orphan who finally finds a home? Sadly, it’s a little bit of all of that and not much else. The characters are all one-note versions of real people yet again none of them are played to the extreme to search for that dark, painful comedy spot.
There are all kinds of potentials for penetrating comedic insights into the current sad state of affairs that passes for politics in America. One could read the movie as the story of the 2008 election. Destiny plays the Obama role as an orphan looking for a way forward while Laura represents the obvious parallel to Sarah Palin’s Red-State, you-betcha regressive conservatism. The film pulls its punches on that score big time as characters seem to just drop their attitudes towards each other for no apparent reason throughout the movie.
Butter also feels like it wants to be a Farrelly Brothers movie with Wilde’s foul-mouthed stripper dropping the “c-word” and threatening the Pickler’s lawn in the one of the film’s funniest lines. She was far and away the best part of the film displaying good comedic timing and delivery. Unfortunately her stripper doesn’t have a lot to do in the movie other than to try to shake down Bob for money. When she can’t convince him she seduces his daughter (Ashley Greene) for money and some tongue-wrestling. Greene has next to nothing to do in the film other than to eyeroll at her dumb father and step-mother.
There was one scene in the middle of the movie where Laura goes to find an old boyfriend in revenge for finding out about Bob sleeping with a stripper. Her ex-boyfriend now runs a car dealership in the area she has somehow avoided for fifteen years without ever running into anywhere. She pulls into the lot and we see him with his back turned to us and wearing a cowboy hat (because that’s what you do in Iowa. Or not.) I thought to myself “Thank God, it’s David Koechner! David Koechner! He can save the film, he is HILARIOUS then he turned around and it was Hugh Jackman. Wow. Not expected. His role added next to nothing to the movie and was not David Koechner. Sigh.
Destiny has some good scenes and Shahidi does a good job overall as the only normal character. Early in the movie there’s a montage of where she goes to live with a motley crew of various stereotyped weirdos ultimately landing up with a thrity-something white couple – Ethan and Julie (Rob Corddry & Alicia Silverstone!) The funniest scene in the whole movie involves Ethan and Destiny as they sit outside the community center before her big competition. She is scared so Ethan plays a game of listing all of the worst things in the world that can be in there as a way to show her that the competition’s not so bad. I would’ve like that scene to go on longer and they do show a few more exchanges in the funnier-than-most-of-the-movie outtakes during the credits.
Ultimately Butter is not convinced of what kind of movie it wants to be so it kinda melts all over the place. Forgive the pun but I couldn’t resist. While I was hoping the movie had more courage to follow a few paths it set out early in the film that it might have took, in the end it tries to play it safe by doing a little bit of everything with the result not being very satisfying. One gets the impression they have been test-marketing the movie and re-cutting since its debut almost a year ago in Telluride. The door is still wide-open for the definitive butter sculpting movie. Start writing America.