Having a taste for “Butter” depends almost entirely on whether you find the comedy of condescension and ridicule a hoot or a very cheap form of amusement. This satire on self-righteous, homily-spewing Red Staters and the cutthroat world of butter carving trades almost entirely on making jokes at the expense of others.
The vaguely insalubrious title of the first feature written by Jason Micallef and the second directed by Jim Field Smith (“She's Out of My League”) refers to the competitive pastime of butter sculpting that consumes the lives of a sufficient number of Iowans to have made it a statewide sport. The undisputed champion for 15 years running is Bob Pickler (Ty Burrell), whose latest creation — a full-sized rendering of The Last Supper — is considered such a celestial masterpiece that he's asked to step aside to give someone else a chance.
Furious at this blow to family eminence, Bob's wife, Laura (Jennifer Garner) takes up the carving knife herself. Laura is the sort of prim, flag-waving, self-satisfied do-gooder whose pasted-on smile can't disguise incisors ready to rip into anyone she finds wanting or threatening.
As it is, she finds no solace at home; Bob momentarily takes up with trampy, extortionist stripper Brooke (Olivia Wilde), who in turn exerts an unhealthy influence on Laura's already checked-out stepdaughter (Kristen Schaal). But the most serious menace comes from an adorable 10-year-old girl with the loaded name of Destiny (Yara Shahidi), who has bounced from one foster family to another until winding up with locals (Rob Corddry, Alicia Silverstone) who bend over backward to please.
Almost absurdly well-adjusted and even-keeled for her age and background, Destiny is revealed as the Mozart of butter carvers. Faced with likely defeat in both the regional and state competitions, where Destiny does remarkable work sculpting the Freedom Train and a pieta-like rendering of herself and her imagined real mother, Laura resorts to deceit in league with a good-ol'-boy former flame (an amusing cameo by Hugh Jackman), revealing her whiny, self-pitying true self in the process.
Playing a thoroughly unpleasant character, Garner, who also coproduced, somewhat overdoes Laura's initial phoniness and her overriding shrillness. That someone, nay, anyone, would become so psychotically preoccupied by butter carving is part of the joke. When she discovers that her husband, whom she once regarded as worthy of high office, has cheated on her with a stripper, she sweeps it under the rug of her artistic ambitions.
Wilde lives up to her name as the go-for-broke exotic dancer as dim as she is unlucky, while the rest of the cast, excepting the dignified Shahidi, works in bright-eyed caricature mode.
— Todd McCarthy, Associated Press
Starring: Jennifer Garner, Olivia Wilde, Hugh Jackman, Ashley Greene, Alicia Silverstone. (Language and sexual content and brief drug use)