When I saw Butter last year at the 2011 Telluride Film Festival “there were laughs from time to time but my general impression was that audience energy levels eventually turned flat. Because after the first 25 or 30 minutes it was clear that the filmmakers weren’t interested in investing any real human truth or honest emotional underpinnings to any of the characters — with one or two exceptions they’re all playing exaggerated satirical types. And worked-out, semi-logical motivations are few and far between.
“I would love to have fun with a smart comedy that skewers Middle America and Jennifer Garner‘s Michelle Bachmann-like character, but Butter is sloppily written and poorly motivated and simply not a class act.
“Garner’s rightwing bitch is so shrill and constipated and psychopathic that it’s impossible to laugh at or with her after the first half-hour or so. Yara Shahidi , a 10-year-old African-American girl who plays the instigating lead, is the one uncompromised bright note, and is obviously pretty and appealing. Ty Burrell, playing Garner’s hapless, low-key husband, is okay for the most part. But Olivia Wilde‘s stripper character and Hugh Jackman‘s car-salesman doofus are written too crudely and illogically.
“Comedies have to be funny, obviously, but they never work unless they’ve been written and constructed like drama. Once you say, ‘Oh, we’re just making a ‘comedy’ so we can goof off and make fun of this and that and throw reality out the window,’ you’re finished.
“Butter was being compared last night to Michael Ritchie‘s Smile (’75), an admired satire about a teenaged beauty competition in Santa Rosa. Forget it, nowhere near, not even close. [A critic friend] mentioned Alexander Payne‘s Election as another similarity. No way in hell — Butter isn’t remotely in the same league.”