A movie about the fiercely competitive world of butter sculpture might seem odd, but then again, we’ve had similar stories about dog shows and children’s beauty pageants. Butter, directed by Jim Field Smith, sets out to skewer the world of state fairs and traditional Midwestern values, paralleling the former with ignorant hicks and the equating the latter with utter hypocrisy. When umpteenth-time state butter-sculpture champ Bob Pickler (Ty Burrell) is informed that new rules prohibit him from competing again, he takes the news with some resignation, but, noting he’s had a good run, agrees to step aside to make room for new blood.
Wife Laura (Jennifer Garner), who sees the butter competition as a possible means to a gubernatorial end, doesn’t take the news sitting down. She forces herself on the judges, threatens to call the governor, and ultimately decides to compete herself. Butter is all she has, she explains to her chief competition, 10-year-old Destiny (Yara Shahidi), whose white foster parents (Alicia Silverstone and Rob Corddry), liberals stuck in a red state, are incredulous that anybody would even use butter, let alone sculpt it. Also competing is stripper Brooke (Olivia Wilde), whose intent is to humiliate Laura when Bob refuses to pay her for their wild night of coitus interuptus.
The competition itself offers fertile ground to poke holes in anything from politics to religion, what with Brooke showing up church-ladied and claiming her depiction of The Scarlet Letter comes courtesy of her newfound belief in Jesus (a riff that was met with wild enthusiasm by the audience). Laura derides Destiny’s sculpting of Harriet Tubman as inappropriately infiltrating PC sentiments on the proceedings, which seems ludicrous until Destiny’s final entry, a loving ode to her dead mother’s love, is judged as a raw testament to childhood abandonment. If anything, the movie is all over the place. Screenwriter Jason Micallef may have intended to spike a nail in the hides of many sacred cows, but ultimately the film reeks of its liberal pretensions.