Written and Directed by Paul A. Kaufman.
Starring Alex Kersting, Mira Sorvino, Annabeth Gish, Mykelti Williamson, Brian Van Holt, McKaley Miller, Ravi Patel, Jack Griffo, Monte Markham, Natalie Valerin, John Kassir, and Jake Austin Walker.
A lonely obese boy everyone calls “Butter” is about to make history. He is going to eat himself to death-live on the Internet – and everyone is invited to watch.
Sometimes a poster alone is enough to give off a skeptical feeling. Adapting the novel from Erin Jade Lange, Paul A. Kaufman’s Butter positions itself as a dark story dealing with heavy material such as obesity, loneliness, online bullying, catfishing, and suicide. Yet, its poster (pictured above) features characters joyously smiling and seemingly photographed in midair. Nothing about these plot details screams for a family-friendly, sanitized, uplifting treatment, but given Kaufman’s background in feel-good Christmas movies, that’s what’s here on the menu.
Alex Kersting is Butter; although being perfectly honest, he is referred to by insults and nicknames so often that I couldn’t even tell you his real name if I wanted to. Nothing about his life seems too troubling given he lives in an expensive home, has a caring if also a concerningly enabling mother (Mira Sorvino), and no real insight as to what initially caused such drastic weight gain. Whatever the case, his large size has contributed to a rift between him and his father and has also made him a target for high school bullying.
Even gifted saxophone talents go to waste, as the boy’s self-esteem is so low he believes any skill he does possess would be overlooked in favor of those judging his obesity. This also means he has trouble talking to girls (and pretty much everyone for that matter), taking it upon himself to strike up a conversation with his school crush Anna (McKaley Miller, one of the only performers that seem to understand that the storytelling needs to be treated with more delicacy, especially during the final 30 minutes) online using an alias.
Choosing which of those threads to follow up on here is difficult, but the one thing they all have in common is tonal ineptitude. Butter occasionally plays up its protagonist’s gross and unhealthy eating habits for comedy, sometimes as a cruel prank at the hands of bullies meant to be uncomfortable, with every character here not taking any of this remotely seriously until it’s too late. For a mom that cares about him, it’s baffling how irresponsible much of her behavior is. Even the peers who cheer on a horrific plan for Butter to eat himself to death on a live stream are painted out to be friends who don’t realize their actions’ negative impact.
Most bafflingly, a high school girl that we come to learn values appearance to a degree is also somehow so gullible she believes lies of being an athlete (among other lies) without asking for a shred of photographic evidence. It’s shoddy and contrived writing that undercuts the tough questions at the heart of self-image and catfishing. At the very least, the film does have the good sense to acknowledge that Butter’s actions are wrong regardless of his mental space.
Worst of all, Butter rarely feels authentic regarding family or high school life. Admittedly, there is an uncomfortable segment showing how Butter is given that nickname, which is the kind of mean-spirited nastiness the story needs to embrace for a more sincere feel. The way it is, Butter comes across as an after-school special with a few Christmas scenes thrown in for good measure. And once the narrative inevitably enters its darkest stretch, the script is all too willing to piece life back together happier than ever without earning such an ending. Butter was made with the best intentions, and although it’s well-acted by Alex Kersting and McKaley Miller, it’s also embarrassingly tone-deaf and fake.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com