'Butter' Review: The Only Comedy This Year that Features Olivia Wilde Playing a Schwinn-Riding Small-Town Stripper

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Butter Review: The Only Comedy This Year that Features Olivia Wilde Playing a Schwinn-Riding Small-Town Stripper

By Dustin Rowles | Film Reviews | October 5, 2012 | Comments ()


Jennifer Garner's competition satire, Butter, is reminiscent of Alexander Payne's Election by way of the Michael Patrick Jann's under-appreciated pageant satire Drop Dead Gorgeous ("The Swan Ate My Baby!"). Like those two films, it's focused on mid-westerners putting up a pretense of polite folksiness, but behind the scenes, revealing themselves to be cut-throat, political, and sexually-driven characters who will stop at nothing to succeed.

Here, Garner plays Laura Pickler, first-wife so to speak to Bob Pickler ("Modern Family's Ty Burrell), a winner of the Iowa state fair butter carving competition for 15 years running. Bob has made something of a crass art of butter sculpting, entering everything from a carving of The Last Supper to a Schindler's List sculpture ("I loved it and I'm not even a Jew!"), and it's given him so much small-town notoriety that Laura believes she can parlay it into the Governor's mansion. Besides a step-daughter that hates her and a husband who is terrified of her, butter is also the only thing Laura has in her life.

However, after 15 consecutive wins, Bob is asked to retire and give someone else a chance, which brings out the overbearing nastiness is Laura, who goes on profanity-fueled tirades (Jennifer Garner screaming "mother f**ker" has fantastic echoes of Tracy Flick at her rage-iest), accusing her husband of cowering to political forces, and essentially driving him to a strip club where he's cajoled into propositioning a stripper played gloriously by Oliva Wilde. Their mini-van lust f*ck, however, is interrupted when Laura barrels her van into theirs, and Wilde's gloriously sexy stripper character spends much of the rest of the film literally on her too-small bicycle I-Want-My-Two-Dollaring Bob for money owed for services rendered.

Meanwhile, Laura decides to enter the butter carving competition herself, so as to keep the title in the family, and runs up against Destiny (Yara Shahidi), a ten-year-old butter carving savant who has spent most of her life in and out of foster homes, sketched out by crazy white people. She lands in the home of Ethan (Rob Corddry) and Julie (Alicia Silverstone), who reluctantly support her butter-carving aspirations, though they find the entire endeavor red-necky.

Much of the film centers on Laura stopping at nothing to destroy the chances of the adorable 10-year-old, going so far as trading sexual favors with an ex-boyfriend (a used car salesman played, weirdly, by Hugh Jackman) in exchange for his help. Meanwhile, because Laura got between her and the stripper's sugar Daddy, the stripper also sets about to sabotage Laura's chances in the competition, at one point seducing Laura's high-school step-daughter.

There are a string of hilarious scenes in Butter, highlighted mostly by Garner's shrewd, villainous housewife and Olivia Wilde's scene-stealing stripper performance. Butter, however, takes a quick tonal shift near the end, shifting gears from funny to touching, but it mostly works thanks in part to the preconceived ideas of what we expect a Jennifer Garner character to be like.

Butter is not a hugely successful satire, but it is consistently amusing and frequently clever. At the very least, it's enjoyable to see both Garner and Wilde play against type (although, the same cannot be said of Jackman, who is much too big of a presence to pull off a hayseed supporting character). It's unlikely to merit much attention, either at the box office later this fall, or with the awards people, but it's a fine diversion if you want to kill an hour at home (the movie is currently available for rental on iTunes).

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Jannymac

    "the movie is currently available for rental on iTunes"
    I also noticed that it's available on my Comcast VOD offerings as "same time in theaters." Comcast does this a lot and it makes me wonder how it would impact any interpretation of box office results. Meaning that if the movie doesn't open that big (in the independent realm of "big") is it because of being offered at the same time in VOD/Streaming? Not that I think it's a bad thing if it means that airing in cable or Itunes opens up the movie to an audience that might necessarily frequent art houses and the like. Still, there is no mechanism that I'm aware of in the industry for rolling together box office receipts and VOD/streaming revenue to give a complete picture of a film's performance.

  • Trey Shacksit

    "...at one point seducing Laura’s high-school step-daughter."

    Hey now!

  • Strand

    Alicia Stone is now old enough to cast in a pair with.... Rob Coddry? Jesus Christ I feel so old.

  • BierceAmbrose

    So, you're saying Olivia Wilde does OK in this?

  • apocalipstick

    Well, I'm looking forward to this now, but I'd quibble with the review. Drop Dead Gorgeous is the most over-praised movie this side of Saved. It's the very definition of going after low-hanging fruit.

  • Jezzer


  • John W

    Play against type? That's funny because in my mind Olivia Wilde is always playing a stripper. In House she's a stripper who dabbles in medicine, in Cowboys and Aliens she was an alien stripper, in Tron she was a computer program stripper and in Turistas she was stripper on vacation.

  • annie

    I've been waiting for this for years not, specifically for Olivia Wilde being 1) hot stripper and 2) being charming and hilarious and hot. Respect.

  • seanfast

    "I-Want-My-Two-Dollaring " best new verb evar

  • Stephen Nein

    As an Iowan, I consider it my patriotic duty to watch the hell out of this film.

  • KatSings

    You had me at "a stripper played gloriously by Olivia Wilde"...

  • DeistBrawler

    :: nods::

  • I just watched the clip that has been added on the Apple trailers page, and Ms Wilde's bat-shit character is glorious. If her entire role shows that degree of mad cap greatness, well, I'll be in my bunk.

    BTW, how does Ty Burrell get to be part of this? I think he's mostly unwatchable, sort of like dry rot.

  • As an Iowan, I consider it my patriotic duty to watch the hell out of this film...A1Job.notlong.com

  • As someone who grew up 20 miles north of Iowa border in MN, I concur and won't even get catty about where butter carving started. Does Iowa crown a Butter Princess too? How awesome is that?

  • zeke_the_pig

    Right there with you

  • lowercase_ryan

    Awesome, I have wanted to see this ever since I saw the trailer. I don't know what it is, but I love earnest and sincere Rob Corddry.

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