“Butter”
If condescension humor is your particular guilty pleasure, here’s one that will draw a few sneers and snickers. It’s not highbrow comedy, but it is an equal opportunity offender.
Jennifer Garner is Laura Pickler, who herself says she can’t help it if she’s tall, white, and pretty. She’s also conniving, controlling, vindictive, petty, and crass, but she tries valiantly to put on her sweet, smiling face in public (yes, a caricature of certain national political figures leap to mind, and just in case we don’t get the inference, at the end she’s running for Governor).
Laura is married to Bob (Ty Burrell), a calm, quiet, good-natured guy who’s loyal to a fault to his condescending wife, who emasculates him so unmercifully that he just assumes he’s sleeping on the couch again. His daughter, Kaitlen (Ashley Greene) feels sorry for her henpecked Dad, and has no use for her bossy, witchy stepmother, so she irritates her by using “forbidden” language, and constant earplugs.
Bob has one unique skill, as a butter sculptor, and has won the Iowa State Fair contest for 15 consecutive years, his most famous rendition being a replica of Da Vinci’s “Last Supper.” But this year the judges approach him with the idea of not entering and giving someone else a chance, and he readily complies with their request. But Laura is so angry that she decides to enter the contest herself, because she feels the crown rightfully belongs in the family.
Bob doesn’t think much of this idea, and tries to tell Laura, but she will not be deterred, so finally he just storms out of the house and impulsively goes to the local “gentleman’s” club, where he succumbs to the lavish attention of Brooke (Olivia Wilde), one of the strippers. Laura catches them “in the act,” in the car, in the parking lot after hours, and after ramming them with her SUV, decides that this is great leverage against hapless guilty Bob.
Meanwhile, a sweet 10-year-old black girl named Destiny (Yara Shahidi), who’s a ward of the State and has been bounced around several foster homes, finally lands with a childless (white) couple who take her in way too enthusiastically, but at least they’re nice to her. And they support her when she wants to enter the butter-sculpting competition, as well.
Now we get to make fun of all the overweight, soul-less white middle Americans who cheer wildly after a heartfelt patriotic speech (Red State residents can all take offense). Olivia Wilde gets to play the delicious part of the saucy and sexy hooker harassing and blackmailing her only-one-time client, and finding an entrance to the family through Kaitlen’s awkward adulation. Laura gets her revenge by calling on an old dumb boyfriend (played by the versatile Hugh Jackman) to bear false witness for her, in exchange for a little favor from her (the humorous outtakes at the end show that they both had a hard time keeping a straight face). He even prays awkwardly, thanking God for sending Laura his way; a casual prayer with scatological references that wouldn’t be heard from any church pulpit.
Let’s see, have we pretty much made fun of everybody? Well, almost. Yara Shahidi gets to be the cute and winsome one throughout, and she has undeniable screen presence. Jennifer Garner gets to convincingly shed her goody-two-shoes image. Olivia Wilde gets to…walk on the wild side, as well. But this is the kind of movie that is probably more fun for them to make than it is for us to watch. Because they’ve cleverly managed to offend whatever target audience they might have developed. But “Butter” is still a possibility as a late-night DVD, where you can hear salty insults they can’t say on “Saturday Night Live.”
Dr. Ronald Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving, Texas