Star Jennifer Garner charges through Butter, her first film as a producer, with the clipped, obsessive certainty of a (really well dressed) bull in a china shop. “Watch your balls, Dad,” her stepdaughter says, but he’s far from the only potential victim on the list.
The Weinstein Co. decided to slip their new comedy into Telluride ahead of its premiere at Toronto, and Garner, co-star Ty Burrell, producer Michael De Luca and director Jim Field Smith attended the first public screening Saturday night at the packed Galaxy Theatre. Smith introduced the film with a witty recounting of his efforts to get the film finished in time and the various flights it took to get here earlier today (with the film reels in his carry-on bag).
Garner noted that Butter was the first film produced by her production company Vandalia Films, which she runs with partner Juliana Janes, after 10 years in action. Since Saturday was the first-ever showing of the film to “real people” she joked, “we could all just die.”
The film is an often edgy comedy masquerading as a political satire about the skullduggery and shenanigans surrounding a butter-carving contest in Iowa, which Garner’s character Laura Pickler proudly brags is “where all the great battles begin.” (It would have been interesting to watch George Clooney’s The Ides of March in a double bill.) The film has plenty of laughs and a slew of great supporting turns, particularly Rob Corrdry as a warm-hearted foster parent and Olivia Wilde as a stripper turned vindictive butter booster. Hugh Jackman shows up in what amounts to a cameo in just a few scenes, including a spoken prayer to God that had the audience howling.
Throughout, there are references to “the liberal media” and America being “No. 1,” as Garner purses her lips and bullies her way through foe and family alike with the hybrid zeal of To Die For’s Suzanne Stone crossed with Michelle Bachmann. (In a funny bit of timing, Sarah Palin was busy bleating to her sheep in Iowa earlier today.) There is so much riding on her winning that it’s frightening. You can tell the filmmakers had Election in mind when they put this together. The satire sometimes loses traction, and the competing voice-overs begin to seem random and pointless, but the narrative is clear enough and the laughs well-earned.
Along the way, we get to see and hear about some fabulous butter sculptures, including a reproduction of The Last Supper, Schindler’s List, Laura Bush, Iwo Jima and Passion of the Christ with Neil Diamond as Jesus. Plus, Smith stuck a funny collection of outtakes at the end that underline that how ridiculous it all is — family, competition, butter, politics, life.