For 15 years, Bob Pickler (Ty Burrell) has dominated the Iowa state butter sculpting competition. His wife Laura (Jennifer Gardner) sees the competition as a stepping stone to fame and prestige, so when Bob agrees to not compete this year and give someone else a chance, Laura loses it and enters the competition herself. Also in the competition are Carol Ann (Kristen Schall); who does her best every year, Brooke (Olivia Wilde); a stripper Bob has been having an affair with, and Destiny (Yara Shahdi); a ten year old black orphan with a natural aptitude for butter carving. What unfolds is a bizarrely dark comedy about a wholly unimportant event, and that alone creates a lot of potential for good comedy. To see how seriously these characters take the act of carving butter is unlike anything you’ve ever seen on film.
I’m generally a fan of dark comedy. That’s why I jumped at the chance to review this even though I wasn’t assigned it. It’s not the best dark comedy I’ve ever seen, but it is fun to watch and even the flatter, more archetypal characters contribute something very interesting and significant to the film. The best example of this is the Laura character, who puts on a bright smile and tries to be personable, but is completely selfish and evil. While the character is an archetype, her presence in the film contributes an interestingly satirical look at right wing politics. The parallels to everyone’s favorite zany former Alaska governor Sarah Palin are clear and do create a lot of laughs in the film.
Not all of the characters are purposefully flat. Some are wonderfully complicated and thus contribute a more realistic and human tone to the film. Yara Shahdi’s portrayal of Destiny is adorable. She’s strong and confident and talented, but with something distinctly broken about her as she has been rejected by so many foster homes. She gives the audience something to root for, and her interactions with her newly adoptive parents (Rob Corddry and Alecia Silverstone) is this film’s biggest asset. One scene in particular where Destiny is sitting in a car with Ethan (Corddry), trying to motivate herself to go inside and sign up for the butter sculpting competition. The two begin going back and forth as to what could possibly go wrong when she walks into the building. These examples range from something going wrong with the room’s gravity, to Destiny being attacked by racist ninjas. It’s a great scene that develops both of the characters individually as well as establishing this fantastic relationship between them.
This isn’t a great film. It’s fun and worth your time, and the visuals of the butter sculptures make owning it on Blu-ray a necessity. I appreciate the movie for what it is, and really only have one major criticism of it. Sure, the right wing criticisms are obvious, and some really good actors are under-utilized here, but I think my big problem is that the film has several narrators. At different times, Laura, Destiny, and even Boyd (Hugh Jackman) provide some form of voice over narration to the film. This choice is awkward and seems to achieve nothing other than artificially develop the characters. It’s easy and cheap storytelling and it would have been much more interesting to see these characters fully developed through action rather than hearing them tell us what they want and why.
Special Features include a gag reel and deleted scenes.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment on December 4.