July 10, 2013

Grilling Up Some BUTTER On The Fourth Of July


"It's bad for you.  Yeah, I said it out loud!"
I love the Fourth Of July, mostly because I love to grill meat.  Last year we were living in our small North End apartment and had a nice little gathering on our roof deck with a few friends and a nifty little fold up grill that we got as a wedding present.  We ate and drank in the sunshine all day and then at night you could see most of the city's epic fireworks show exploding just over the tops of the surrounding buildings.  We've since moved to East Boston, leaving a prime downtown location in favor of more living space and trading in our rooftop for a private deck.  And a private deck also means a proper grill, which I assembled myself a few weeks prior to the holiday:



Ain't she a beauty? 

After breaking it in with some delicious grilled pizza, courtesy of my wife and the Internet, we bought an absurd quantity of food and alcohol and settled in for what proved to be an excellent cookout.  We had burgers, hot dogs, sausages, chips, dips and two kinds of potato salad. And Jamie, never passing up an opportunity to concoct mass quantities of culinary awesomeness, made crab cakes, stuffed jalapeños, guacamole and shortcake with whipped cream - both from scratch.  That's right, I married a gourmet badass.

We also had not one but TWO adorable ginger babies in attendance, a sure sign that we are now definitely grown ups.  It was an odd collection of different friends from different eras of my life, but it's always easy to bond over cold beers and tasty BBQ.  Also, it was hotter than hell for much of the day, so our newly acquired central air really came in handy.

I had intended to watch Born On The Fourth Of July first thing in the morning, but I slept later than I meant to and then had to run out to the store for a few last minute items (i.e. more booze) so I didn't get around to a movie until after the party had broken up.  By then it was about midnight and I was in no state to watch a drama about the plight of a Vietnam veteran, so instead I scrolled through my Netflix queue in search of something equally patriotic.  I settled on Butter.  It somehow seemed appropriate.

I first learned of Butter when it landed a prominent spot on the Hollywood Black List, an annual collection of the best unproduced screenplays in town, culled from the desks of various film executives.  The Black List is always stacked with talented writers and intriguing concepts; I look forward to its release every December as a way to find cool new projects to track.  But in truth, the Black List is usually something of a mixed bag.  Most of the scripts contained therein will never actually get shot (although the writers often use their new found cred to secure lucrative writing gigs) and the ones that do are hardly guaranteed to find mainstream success.  For every Juno or 500 Days Of Summer, there's a Buried or The Beaver.  Butter falls squarely in this second category.

It's about the rise of two unlikely rivals at the annual Iowa state fair's butter carving competition, which is just as silly as it sounds.  I appreciate butter carving solely because it gave the world this classic West Wing scene:


I have paraphrased that "you just have to stand there" line more times than I can count.

Anyway, for all the sex, blackmail, sabotage and deceit on display, the entire movie is covered with a thin film of cuteness, due mostly to deadpan earnestness of young Yara Shahidi as Destiny, the eleven year old African American foster child who discovers a natural aptitude for dairy carving.  Jennifer Garner, who also produced the film, unquestionably shines as Laura Pickler, the power-hungry wife of Ty Burrell's 15-time butter carving champion.  When he's asked to step aside and let someone have a chance at the crown, Laura's not ready to relinquish her position as the first lady of butter.  After all, she sees their success as a stepping stone to the governor's mansion.  So she decides to enter the contest herself despite no real experience.  It's a flashy role and it's easy to see what drew Garner to the role in the first place, (Laura Pickler is essentially the Sarah Palin of butter) but it's a little cartoonish and over-the-top for my tastes.  The movie itself goes further and further off the rails as time goes on, spending too little time on the actual butter carving and too much time on weird sideshows like Olivia Wilde's awesome but underutilized stripper Tokyo Rose seducing Burrell's teenage daughter in order to get the money he owes her, or the sudden appearance of Hugh Jackman as Laura's dimwitted car salesman ex-boyfriend.  Also, the entire third act hinges on a plot contrivance that makes zero sense.

The best thing in this movie is unquestionably Rob Corddry as the coolest foster father on the planet.  He and Alicia Silverstone, whose face is perpetually contorted into a series of expressions that would seem to indicate she's being jabbed in the kidney with a knitting needle, are described as "the whitest people in the world," but it's not entirely an insult.  I braced myself for Corddry's character to be awkward and uptight, almost like Eddie Murphy's classic "white people" character from his stand-up days, but instead he's totally honest and straightforward with Destiny, cracking jokes and treating her like an adult instead of a charity case.  In a movie full of characters that border on outright parody, Corddry's Ethan is the voice of sanity, a caring, level-headed nice guy who doesn't really get the appeal of butter carving but is ready and willing to support Destiny in her weird new chosen artform.  You need only watch the scene where he and Destiny sit in the car and he allays her fears in signing up for the competition by making a list of preposterous threats that might be inside the building, like the ghost of Hitler or good-looking British vampires.  It's equal parts hilarious and adorable, and as much as I enjoy Corddry in his typical brash douchebag roles, it's nice to see him shine playing something as simple as a good father.  It reminds me of his excellent work in the recent zombie flick Warm Bodies.

Butter is an entertaining enough flick that served as a nice capper to an excellent Fourth Of July.  Probably not something I'll revisit, but it's a cute one-off.

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Title: Butter
Director: Jim Field Smith
Starring: Jennifer Garner, Ty Burrell, Rob Corddry, Yara Shahidi, Olivia Wilde, Alicia Silverstone, Ashley Green, Hugh Jackman
Year Of Release: 2011
Viewing Method: Netflix Instant - TV