DIRECTED BY Jim Field Smith
STARS Jennifer Garner, Yara Shahidi
BLOCKED: Laura Pickler (Jennifer Garner) tries to get her creative juices flowing in Butter. (The Weinstein Co.)
Julianne Moore recently won an Emmy Award for her performance as Sarah Palin in the HBO film Game Change, but don't expect the cinematic equivalent (read: an Academy Award) to land in Jennifer Garner's lap for her performance as a Sarah Palin clone in the satire Butter. It's not that there's anything wrong with Garner's work here, but everything about this film is played at such a high wink-wink, nudge-nudge level that it's impossible to imagine anyone will be bowled over with its obvious politics.
Still, for those who aren't Tea Party sycophants and/or FOX News zombies, there are some modest chuckles to be found in this comedy set in a small Iowa town. Bob Pickler (Ty Burrell), the county's 15-time butter-carving champion, has been asked to step aside and let someone else have a crack at the title, a request that sends his glory-seeking wife Laura (Garner) into a tizzy. Laura views the contest as a stepping stone to politics and elects to enter the competition herself so that the Pickler family will continue to be represented. She does face three challengers, although her ditzy acquaintance (Kristen Schaal) and her husband's stripper-mistress (Olivia Wilde) pose no threat. The only real competition comes from a young black girl named Destiny (Yara Shahidi), a foster child who, with the encouragement of her latest set of parents (Rob Corddry and Alicia Silverstone), takes up the knife and discovers that she has a real talent for this unusual hobby. Will the privileged Laura, who makes no apologies for being "white and tall and pretty," win the opportunity to make it to the state finals? Or will Destiny be able to offer hope and change to the region?
Yes, the whole enterprise is that obvious, from Laura's disdain for "the liberal media" to her aspirations to reach the White House. With the exception of a miscast Hugh Jackman as a slow-witted car salesman, the performances aren't bad, but the film's skewering of Middle America is so soft, you could easily cut it with — what else? — a butter knife.