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‘Butter’ slips with a poorly written plot

Set in the cornfields of the Midwest, “Butter” explores how sex, greed, money and ambition can be dangerous — even in the simple world of butter-carving. But while “Butter” provides some laughs and impressive casting, its story falls short of the mark.

Directed by Jim Field Smith (“She’s Out of My League”) and written by Jason Micallef, “Butter” follows contestants in the Iowa State Fair Butter Competition. When 15-year frontrunner Bob Pickler (Ty Burrell from “Modern Family”) steps down from his position as the sure-fire winner, his wife Laura (Jennifer Garner) decides to enter the competition herself. But she encounters some unexpected competition in the form of a talented 10-year-old foster child named Destiny (Yara Shahidi), a greedy stripper (Olivia Wilde), and her husband’s biggest fan (Kristen Schaal).

When Micallef doesn’t know what to do with a scene, he relies on rude language to make the dialogue more interesting. The film is rated R, but even so, it feels incredibly crude and perverse for an otherwise fairly lighthearted story. Every 20 minutes there is at least one mention of someone’s genitals. However, this method does occasionally work, like when Laura seduces her high school beau Boyd Bolton (Hugh Jackman) to help her triumph over Shahidi’s character.

The movie’s strength lies in its cast. Garner masterfully embodies the stereotypical uppity housewife, but newcomer Shahidi steals the show, her loveable demeanor making it hard not to root for her. Wilde, Burrell and Jackman provide most of the laughs, turning the most poorly written lines into ones worth hearing. Ashley Greene (“Twilight”), however, isn’t very credible as the angst-filled daughter of Garner and Burrell.

Despite a predominately talented cast, the characters are strikingly one-dimensional — especially Laura. Her self-righteous personality is hard to pity, which is a problem considering she is the film’s protagonist.

Eventually, the film works up to a rotten conclusion, which is poorly
written and gives the impression that the crew just wanted to finish the film. Ultimately, the only two redeeming qualities of “Butter” are its showcase of amazingly designed butter sculptures and the couple of chuckles the film manages to elicit.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Oct. 2 print edition. Laura Wolford is a contributing writer. Email her at film@nyunews.com. 

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