Wednesday, March 27, 2013

"My father raped me" and other hilarious lines from Butter

You think I'm kidding.

Read on.

Let me start by saying that Jim Field Smith's Butter is a weird little movie. Weird good, but still weird.

It's a movie about people competing in an Excellence in Butter Carving competition at the Iowa State Fair. But it's also an allegory for the 2008 presidential primary between Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton, something I didn't consciously recognize but learned afterward from a review. But it's also a sweet movie about finding a family among the people in your life. But it's also raunchy as hell.

Take the following exchange, which shouldn't have made me laugh but did. First let me set up the scene, and give you a mild spoiler warning.

Frustrated husband Bob Pickler (Ty Burrell) walks out after an argument with his wife (Jennifer Garner) and heads to the nearby strip club, where he meets/may already know a stripper named Brooke (Olivia Wilde). After he offers her his dollar in exchange for some closer contact, Brooke slinks off the stage into his lap and the following occurs:

Brooke: You're the only man who cares about me.

Bob: That's not true. I'm sure there are plenty of men who like you. Your father cares about you, right?

Brooke: My father raped me.

Bob: Oh, my ... God.

Stammering in that humorous way that Burrell has mastered. 

But wait, before you click that button to stop following my blog, let me explain to you why this exchange -- which seems so tragic on the page -- was actually hilarious.

1) It's pretty clear Brooke is a con artist. She feeds Bob an opening line that is clearly intended to lay the groundwork for some kind of sugar-daddy arrangement. If it isn't clear enough, after this exchange she says she's looking for more than someone to take care of her and pay her rent, "which comes out to $580 with utilities." The whole seduction plays out like a parody of strip club seduction.

2) She says it in such a sultry voice. And she goes up on the word "raped." "My father RAPED me," she says, as though emphasizing the sexiest part rather than pleading for pity. Which could make it more horrible, I guess, but instead makes it more deliciously absurd.

3) Even if Brooke weren't clearly playing him and telling him something that we'd have to guess is not the truth, the line made me laugh because it's such an unusual approach to wooing a john (which the next scene makes it clear Brooke is doing). In the psychology of the gentleman's club, the dancer's job is to keep her personal history or present circumstances entirely out of the proceedings, allowing the man to indulge in his fantasy (and fork over more money). Get too detailed about the events that led her down this path, and the man will start to feel guilty and end the transaction before it even begins. That she would take this brazen approach (while, we assume, lying through her teeth about the rape) establishes this character with delightful crudeness.

4) It was just plain unexpected, and the unexpected sometimes makes us laugh in spite of ourselves. 

My wife also laughed, so I didn't feel so bad.

It may have also been that this was the first indication (at the 18-minute mark) that this wasn't just an innocent little movie about provincial hicks whose world begins and ends with the state fair. Butter is actually raw and shocking sometimes -- shockingly hilarious, mostly.

Here's another example.

When Bob's wife (Laura) discovers Bob having sex with Brooke in his minivan, she rams it, summarily ending the sexual act and depriving Brooke of the money she had coming to her. Thus begins a quest by Brooke to get the money, which morphs into a vendetta against Laura. As Laura has her eyes on the prize of winning the carving competition, Brooke signs up as her opponent just to mess with her. After leaving a frantically illegible doctor's signature on the sign-up sheet, Brooke whips into a standing position, the hair still in her eyes, and quips "It's on, c---."

Standing nearby is a 10-year-old girl (Yara Shahidi), but also Kristen Schaal, who says "I haven't heard that word since my dad died."

Again, laughter.

That's two instances of awful father-daughter behavior that were both delivered in such a way as to make a good liberal like me laugh.

Oh, and that 10-year-old girl? Later, when learning from her foster father that her foster mother can't have babies, she asks "Is her vagina broken?"

Laughter, this time mostly free from guilt.

As you might guess, there's an element of Butter that's all over the place. The story goes on tangents with secondary characters and has its satirical sights set on a few too many things.

But man, when it's funny, it's funny.

The really strange thing about Butter is that one of its least crude characters is Rob Corddry, who has made an entire career out of being a smarmy asshole. Playing the foster father, he has a relationship with his foster daughter that's entirely free from cynicism, and it's easily the warmest performance I've ever seen him give. In fact, having not previously liked him all that much, I now feel all turned around on the topic of Mr. Corddry.

There's also one great extended cameo that would be all the better if you hadn't familiarized yourself too much with the cast listed on this poster, as we had not.

What makes this movie, though, is Olivia Wilde, whose commitment to the material is tremendous. By taking her stripper (who rides a kid's bicycle) and turning her into something profane and wonderful, she's removing her from the realm of victim, making her into a victimizer instead.

Anyone who can make me laugh at the concept of forced incest has got to be doing something really right or really wrong.

I guess you'll need to see Butter to decide which it is for you.


Thaddeus said...

I've been waiting to see this movie for a while, but I have a backlog to work through as it is.

I've spoken with many people about this picture, and a lot of them told me that it was incredibly weird, but also had a lot of things to enjoy and laugh at. Other people said that there was actually a bit of political subtext to the film.

In any case, you've certainly increased my interest in this one, Vance!

Nick Prigge said...

I'll agree that it was weird and raunchy and was funny in parts (particularly Olivia Wilde, as you mention) but I just felt like there two movies going on here - one with Jennifer Garner and one with the little girl and that they just didn't meet in the middle properly and it all got thrown out of whack.

Of course, as a native Iowan I tend to demand perfection from any movie featuring Iowa since we don't have many. Which is totally unfair and which is why I may not be a fair judge.

But I did love Rob Corddry. I too was anti-Corddry going in and, man, he turned me around. HE was Iowa!

Vancetastic said...


Awesome, I hope you like it. It's definitely better than I heard it was supposed to be.


The movie definitely suffers from Multiple Protagonist Disorder, which is usually the sign of a confused script. However, I did find that the good-weird moments made it a success overall. And hopefully this is the start of new things for Senor Corddry.