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A Biting And Brutal Satire That Still Manages To Wear Its Heart On Its Sleeve,
This review is from: Butter (Amazon Instant Video)
Despite an impressive comic cast, I hadn't heard very many positives about "Butter" before I sat down to watch it. Maybe my expectations were set too low, because I actually thought this biting Midwestern satire worked just fine. It is never afraid to push the envelope of good taste, but it is also grounded by a certain gentleness and sweetness that is as unexpected as it is winning. Many contemporary satires are content to be as abrasive and confrontational as possible, so I thought the levels of shading in "Butter" really distinguished it from the pack. That's not to say that the movie has gone soft or lacks edge, it doesn't. It just works a fine balancing act between outrageous political incorrectness AND characters that you might actually care about. So, for me, "Butter" was a genuinely pleasant surprise.
Of course, the premise of the film is absolutely irresistible. Set in the competitive and cut-throat world of butter carving, the screenplay attacks both obvious and less expected targets. Ty Burrell (invaluable on Modern Family) and Jennifer Garner play the first couple of the annual State Fair. Burrell has been the butter carving champion for fifteen consecutive years, and Garner has basked in the associated glory while rising to a level of community power. When Burrell is asked to sit out of this year's competition, this opens the door to new talent. Among them, Garner steps up as a amoral and manipulative contender. Also in the ring is an orphan girl (an effective Yara Shahidi) that seems like a butter carving prodigy. The two ladies stage an epic battle of skill and cunning, but the ruthless Garner doesn't intend to play fair. Who will emerge victorious? And will anyone remain unscathed from this battle of good versus evil?
Garner is wildly over-the-top in the piece's biggest performance. It's a committed choice that is countered expertly by the more deadpan Shahidi. In many ways, the little girl is the heart and soul of the movie but she's never portrayed as a sap or an innocent. She's got her head firmly in the game. Burrell tones things down and is undeniably likable, even in a side plot about a rampaging stripper/mistress. Rod Corddry (creator of my favorite Childrens Hospital) and Alicia Silverstone, as Shahidi's foster parents, are also down-to-earth and supportive. As I said, the tone of the movie can be brutal--but there is a real heart in the center of the story. Some nice comic bits round out the principle players. Hugh Jackman has an unlikely supporting role as a cohort and coconspirator of Garners. And great character actresses Kristen Schaal (always brilliant) and Phyllis Smith (The Office) have scene stealing moments. All in all, I had quite a bit of fun with "Butter." KGHarris, 12/12.