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Political satire "Butter" drips with ambition

Actress Garner poses at the gala presentation for the film "Butter" at the Toronto International Film Festival
Actress Garner poses at the gala presentation for the film "Butter" at the Toronto International Film Festival

By Julie Gordon

TORONTO (Reuters) - Ambition and folk art collide in director Jim Field Smith's comedy, "Butter," which uses a state fair butter carving competition to satirize the divisiveness of American politics.

The British comedian-turned-filmmaker crafts the story of Laura Pickler, a woman who steps into her husband's shoes as a competitive butter sculptor after he is pressured into retirement in order to give someone else a chance to win.

For Pickler, played with pitbull edge by Jennifer Garner, being the better half of Iowa's most popular butter artist is just the first step toward an eventual future in politics.

But standing between her and the Governor's mansion is Destiny; a young, black foster child whose prodigal talent and passion for butter carving whip the crowd, and local judges, into a frenzy. It's up to Pickler to put Destiny down.

"To a certain extent it's about ambition," Field Smith told Reuters. "It's about this ambitious woman who will stop at nothing and she's got her blinkers on."

The parallels to the 2008 Democratic primary race, which pitted political heavyweight Hillary Clinton against relative newcomer Barack Obama, are blatant, though Pickler seems to have more in common with Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann.

In fact, the film's executive producer, Harvey Weinstein, went so far as to issue a statement at the movie's Toronto premiere earlier this week, inviting Bachmann to co-host an Iowa screening with him.

"We could take some math classes in the morning to help balance the budget, brush up on the constitution in the afternoon, play some ping-pong and then maybe some verbal ping-pong on gay rights and women's rights," Weinstein's statement read.

"Butter", which is Field Smith's second feature film, came out of the recent Telluride film festival with decent buzz, but has been dogged by negative reviews in Toronto.

Pitched as a satire by its backers, the characters are often so extreme that some critics have accused it of being mean spirited.

"I think comedy and satire are the best at a point of extremes," said Field Smith. "Everything has been pushed into this almost gladiator space and so I think that is something that the movie satirizes. It's become like a blood sport."

As for the lukewarm reviews, Field Smith said the proof is in the pudding -- or in this case, in the standing ovation the film received at its Toronto premiere.

"Comedy's a very subjective thing," he said. "Not everyone's going to like the movie, I think the majority will."

(Reporting by Julie Gordon; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)

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