A toothless, insufferably smug satire using competitive butter-carving as a weak-tea stand-in for Midwestern politics, Butter is so contemptuous of its corn-fed rubes, it might as well be a Trojan horse crafted to prove the movie industry’s liberal bias. Jennifer Garner, functioning as an nth-generation Xerox of Election’s Tracy Flick, plays the wife of Ty Burrell’s long-running champion, a genial master whose prize-winning entries include a Schindler’s List-themed sculpture and a rendition of The Last Supper that the Des Moines Register called “better than the original”—man, those hicks are dumb!
But Burrell’s dominance has become predictable, so he’s asked to bow out and make room for up-and-comers, a suggestion that goes down easier with him than with his cutthroat wife. Garner, whose character seems to own an endless succession of high-sheen evening gowns, sees her husband’s low-grade celebrity as the ticket to power, be it a seat in the Governor’s Mansion or the White House. So when he steps down, she moves into the breach, pulling out knives both dull and sharp.
There’s just one hitch, though—her main competition is a little African-American girl (Yara Shahidi), and a foster child to boot! Naturally, she’s sassy—enough to observe that her latest caretakers (Rob Corddry and Alicia Silverstone) are “the whitest people I ever met.” Further hilarity ensues when it’s revealed that Burrell’s squeaky-clean high-school principal is carrying on an affair with a stripper (Olivia Wilde), who decides to get in on the carvery as well.
Desperate to add an appearance of edge to the movie’s skim-milk social comment, Harvey Weinstein cannily launched Butter at last year’s Toronto Film Festival with an introduction taking shots at Michele Bachmann, but the movie’s political aspirations feel like an afterthought—literally, in the case of a framing scene showing Garner and Burrell at a victory celebration, which was added in reshoots. Mostly, Butter is a venue for writer Jason Micallef and director Jim Field Smith to lob spitballs at people about whom they seem to know nothing, and care less. The only consolation is that, like a butter sculpture, their flavorless creation will melt in the heat, leaving behind only a greasy, rancid puddle.