One of the biggest question marks at the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival slate is The Weinstein Company comedy, “Butter.” It’s a curious picture for several reasons. It’s not entirely clear if it’s a drama, dramedy or comedy, but the TIFF website firmly says comedy (with elements of “identity” and “politics”), so fine then, maybe it incorporates all those elements. The TIFF site isn’t helping either, as one of the loglines say the principal cast is the family at the center of the picture that’s played by Jennifer Garner and Ty Burrell, plus the African American girl Yara Shahidi, who ends up as a nemesis to Garner’s character. Meanwhile, TIFF says the cast is lead by Olivia Wilde and Hugh Jackman, but all photos released so far are of Garner.
Confused? Don’t be, Toronto likes to trump its stars front and center which is why they’re positioning Wilde and Jackman on top, but it’s pretty obvious by reading TIFF’s own long-form synopsis that they are both supporting players in this tale
But will it be any good? And is TWC releasing it during festival season because they think it has Oscar hopes? Currently it has no release date and TWC already seems to have its 2011 Oscar bets in place — though admittedly always love a back up — so it feels as if they’re using the picture as a guinea pig barometer test. The film is directed by Jim Field Smith (”She’s Out of My League”) and written by Jason Micallef (who is writing “Undercover Cop” for Jason Segel and producer Steve Zaillian) and the story follows Laura (Garner), the wife of a former butter sculpting champion Bob (Burrell) who tries to take the mantle from her husband only to be thwarted by a young adopted African American girl (Shahidi) who has discovered that she has a natural talent for making art out of butter. Below is a larger version of this new image from Entertainment Weekly and the long-form synopsis written by TIFF’s programmers.
The offbeat story has a bit of edge to it as it’s evidently an analogy for the 2008 Democratic primaries — Garner and Burrell are obviously Hillary and Bill Clinton, with the young African girl playing the Barack Obama figure in the story so we’re surely going to see a Jennifer Garner character at her worst. Whether or not that allegory will be front and center in the picture remains to be seen, but there’s certainly some potential there.
Here’s the long-form synopsis. It gets somewhat spoiler-y (though no more than a first trailer will be), so be forewarned:
Bob Pickler (Ty Burrell) is known throughout the Midwest as “the Elvis of butter.” He raised butter carving from a mere pastime to a magisterial art with his legendary renderings of Newt Gingrich, a T. Rex eating a girl, The Last Supper and scenes from Schindler’s List — and he couldn’t have done any of it without the undying support of his wife Laura (Jennifer Garner). But when Bob announces his retirement, Laura — who always imagined Bob’s buttery glory as a stepping stone to the presidency — can’t cope with the possibility of the championship title going to anyone other than a Pickler. So despite her lack of hands-on experience, she decides to enter herself in the next match. And for Laura Pickler, losing is not an option.
While the ultra-high-maintenance Laura embarks on her ruthless campaign to conquer all contenders, a young African-American orphan named Destiny (Yara Shahidi) is adopted by the Emmets (Alicia Silverstone and Rob Corddry), a kindly couple eager to prove themselves great parents — even if that means reluctantly encouraging Destiny’s participation in the traditionally redneck butter-carving contest. Does a soft-spoken black girl no one knows have any chance against someone as fierce, rich, nefarious and white as the permanently power-suited Laura Pickler?
Comedies don’t come more simultaneously heartwarming and audacious than Butter. Destiny’s experiences with culture clash are just one of the film’s many sources of humanist hilarity. There’s also Brooke (Olivia Wilde), the resourceful stripper/ prostitute who puts the squeeze on Bob, who owes a sizable tab for her services, by seducing the Picklers’ teenaged daughter. (She also enters the contest, disguised as a born-again Christian, just to rattle Laura’s nerves.) And then there’s Boyd Bolton (Hugh Jackman), the car salesman Laura beds in exchange for his assistance in sabotaging Destiny’s chances. It all comes to a head in a final showdown that cuts like a warm knife through boundaries of race, class and age, leading to Destiny’s new sense of, er, destiny, and to Laura’s realization that perhaps her real career lies on the political path blazed by Sarah Palin.
“Butter” also stars Alicia Silverstone, Rob Corddry, Ashley Greene, and before we count it out, let’s remember that the screenplay landed high on the 2008 Black List. Let’s hope its edges haven’t been smoothed over since then. And let’s not forget that old Entertainment Tonight set visit where Jackman says if you love “Little Miss Sunshine,” “To Die For,” and “Fargo” you should love “Butter” too.