Monday, September 24, 2012

I Can't Believe It's A Movie About Women! (Butter)

Okay, so when I decided to write this review, I didn’t realize that Butter, the satirical comedy starring Jennifer Garner, Olivia Wilde, and a whole host of hilarious people, hasn’t actually come out yet. So, I’m going to try to do this without spoilers, and hopefully some of you will go see it. Because it was good.

And if anyone with the government or entertainment industry is reading this, I totally saw Butter in a legal way. Promise.

Like I said above, Butter stars Jennifer Garner as Laura Pickler, the devoted wife of Bob Pickler (Ty Burrell), who has been the champion butter carver in Iowa for the last fifteen years. But that’s all about to change, because the butter carving board has decided Bob needs to give someone else a chance, forcing Laura to face the horrifying idea of someone else being the face of butter.

I never said this was a normal premise.

Anyway, stuff happens and Laura decides to enter for herself. Mucking things up are Olivia Wilde as a vengeful stripper, Kirsten Schall as a superfan, and newcomer Yara Shahidi as a foster child with a knack for butter carving. It’s a sometimes heartwarming, sometimes scathing, usually hilarious movie about the seedy underbelly of competitive butter carving, which is not something I even remotely knew was a thing.

It also stars Rob Cordry and Alicia Silverstone as foster parents, Hugh Jackman as a used car salesman, and Ashley Green as Ty Burrell’s angsty teenage daughter. Also some other people. The casting is pretty epic.

Without giving too much away, I’d just like to examine for you why I enjoyed this movie so freaking much. It’s not a perfect movie, is the thing. In fact, I am well aware of and capable of pointing out its flaws. That’s not the basis of its appeal. The appeal comes from how this is a movie about a bunch of women from all different backgrounds, generations, and motivations arguing.

Why, you might ask, is that a good thing? A movie about a bunch of people arguing, butting heads, and generally trying to make each other’s lives miserable does not sound like a good time, right?

Except for the part where that’s precisely what movies are. Movies are about conflict, and in Butter, despite how inane the conflict seems to us, it means everything to the people involved. That makes the movie entertaining, engrossing, and just plain fun.

The other main reason I love it though comes from the fact that the people doing the arguing and butting heads are all women. There are three main male characters in the movie. Ty Burrell, Rob Cordry, and Hugh Jackman. 

And all of them, all of them, are described or identified in relationship to the women around them. Bob (Burrell) is Laura’s husband. Ethan (Cordry) is Destiny’s foster dad. Boyd (Jackman) is Laura’s ex-boyfriend. I cannot think of many other movies, in fact I’m currently drawing a blank on naming just one, where the male characters were all defined in relationship to women

It’s incredibly common the other way round. When was the last time you saw an action movie where there wasn’t at least one female character (and usually exactly one in the entire film) who was defined as so-and-so’s girlfriend or wife? That’s what women usually get to be in films. Wives and girlfriends, sometimes mothers or daughters, seldom imbued with an identity of our own.

So I think you can imagine how shocking and refreshing it was to watch a movie where the opposite was true.

But more than that, Butter is about the relationships between women. It’s what The Women should have been. I mean, I can’t get too much into the relationships without spoiling the plot, but it actually takes a strong look at the ways that women relate to each other, across class, race, and moral lines. And it’s kind of awesome for that.

A lot of the reason that I love this movie is the way that the women in this movie aren’t circulating around a man, like in The Women, and they’re not constantly talking about their vaginas and sex like in Sex and the City. You don’t really notice that it’s anchored by women, until you stop in the second act and realize that all of the important relationships, decisions, and conflicts are by women about women. It makes me want to jump up and down with joy.

Look, I have nothing against a good romance, and I think that Sex and the City has its place. But I can’t get over how nice it is to watch a movie where the women are just people. They’re just normal people in a normal story, and it’s all about them. It could be a movie all about men, and it could be a movie that’s intermixed. And it’s not. It’s a movie about women being people. That thrills me.

So, I hope you guys go out and watch it. You don’t have to love it as much as I do, though, seriously, it was epic, but I want you to appreciate how rare what you’re seeing is. And I want you to think about how if we all go see this movie, then just maybe they’ll make more like it.

P.S. I just thought of another movie where the women define the conflict: Bridesmaids. But I’m having trouble coming up with more. And even that was a bit of a romance and focused on a wedding. So, almost.

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