Actors in satirical 'Butter' try too hard to be funny
Easy for him to say: Being a sensitive, inspired artist must come naturally to the man who has triumphed for years in the annual Iowa butter-carving competition.
I know -- you're thinking to yourself, "Another movie about butter carving?"
"Butter" seeks to have the final word on this issue, as it charts the progress of a particularly fraught year.
Bob (played by Ty Burrell, of "Modern Family") is stepping down from competition, to give other people a chance.
His wife, Laura (Jennifer Garner), needs the attention that comes with being atop the butter world, and she reacts to Bob's retirement by joining the competition herself.
The other impetus for Laura is her fury over Bob's affair with a stripper (Olivia Wilde). But this year's contest will be no cakewalk: Laura must defeat an adorable 10-year-old girl named Destiny (Yara Shahidi) who clearly has an innate gift for shaping dairy products into art.
If "Butter" sounds a little like one of those improvised comedies from Christopher Guest and his comedic company, forget it. This film doesn't have the skills to compete at that level.
You can see what screenwriter Jason Micallef and director Jim Field Smith were going for, in their genial satire of wacky American habits. But the range between biting comedy and sweetness doesn't feel right.
In fact, the sweetness comes off best, especially when it involves Destiny's foster parents (played by Rob Corddry and Alicia Silverstone). Amid the strained silliness of the rest of the picture, this family unit comes across as cool and funny.
Jennifer Garner plays her role as though in audition for a Sarah Palin biopic, as she conjures up a portrait of buttery ambition. The actress is full of gumption, but she misses the comedy by trying just a bit too hard.
That's true in general of this outing. When you look at "Best in Show" or "A Mighty Wind," you see veteran comedians playing the reality of their situations, and finding the funny; here, with the exception of Corddry and Burrell, you see actors trying to be funny. (Guilty as charged is Hugh Jackman, drawling through a couple of scenes as a slippery car salesman.)
And comedy has an interesting way of working when you don't catch the performers trying so hard. A lesson "Butter" hasn't quite learned.
"Butter" (2 stars)
The annual Iowa butter-carving competition takes a vicious turn when a wronged wife (Jennifer Garner) will do anything to win. You can see the kind of genial American satire is intended here, but the actors try too hard to be funny, instead of letting the humor come out of reality.
Rated: R for language, subject matter.
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