Butter: Review

Butter: Review

Butter: Review. By Daniel Pollock.

When it comes to a market as crowded as the high school movie, I feel that to successfully produce a decent effort, it is completely necessary to do one of two things: either tell the same story differently (Donnie Darko, Welcome to the Dollhouse), or tell a different story (Election).

If you can’t do either of these, you run the risk of falling in the quagmire that almost all feature films dwell in for one reason or another. That is why it’s such a shame that Butter wasted such a dark and intriguing premise, which had every right to differentiate itself from the pack, but eschewed black comedy for muddled moralising and Hallmark sensibilities. 

On paper, it definitely sounds promising: Butter (Alex Kersting who, God love him, totally inhabits a thankless, charmless role) is a morbidly obese loner who spends his days alone, where he eats, plays the saxophone, drives the sweet Mustang he has somehow, or effectively stalks his schoolyard crush online (McKaley Miller, not as charmless). One day, he decides he’s going to eat himself to death, and he’s going to stream the results live over the internet. However, his suicidal antics lead to an explosion of popularity, and see him installed as one of the “cool kids”, which definitely confuses things. Will he accept his newfound (if horribly formed) friendships and pull the plug on his plan, or stick to his word?

Like I said, it’s an intriguing premise full of opportunity for morbid, fatalist exploration. But what if I told you it seems to portray itself as a light, fun comedy for all the family? There’s nothing wrong with going against type when it comes to movie making (I practically demanded it in my first sentence), but if you work this hard to ignore the nature of your story and protagonist’s struggle, then why make the film at all?

Butter aims to be an easy cautionary tale; the kind that a P.E. teacher could pop on for a rainy day and count it towards their mental health module. But by substituting the weakest tropes and colour-by-numbers elements of a teen movie in for anything even approximating the stark reality of the situation, the filmmakers have taken out any teachable moments. 

Beyond the content, the filmmaking is mixed – director Paul A. Kaufman has primarily worked on television episodes and TV movies, and it shows, with brightly bland lighting, basic framing and weak staging giving off the vibe of a silently released Netflix original. Butter’s gormless narration also undercuts his relationships, with his relations to other characters presented often through his dull ramblings instead of any memorable actions or gestures. There were undeniable bright spots however: Ravi Patel as Butter’s witless doctor had his moments, and in likely the single bold choice of the film, our lead’s climatic meal is played out in near dead silence.

A family scene at Christmastime narrowly misses being genuinely powerful, too, with some odd editing choices giving it away too quickly. Also, Academy Award-winning actress Mira Sorvino plays Butter’s mum. She puts in a performance that is at least what you’d expect from an Oscar winner, and the movie is better for it.  

I would’ve loved to see the disturbing “Leaving Las Vegas by way of Todd Solondz” oddity this could and should have been. Instead, basic heartstring-tuggery is the most the film aspires to. Ironically, it’s a tougher pill to swallow in this incarnation than the black comedy would be. At least that would’ve taught some of the film’s intended audience a thing or two. 

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Daniel is a Sydney-based writer and filmmaker. He likes to think of himself as a man of letters - mostly of the furious, "to the editor" variety.


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