“Butter” (Blue Fox Entertainment), based on the book by Phoenix native Erin Jade Lange, follows the trials and tribulations of a talented, sax-playing, good-natured high-school junior. But for all his talents, Marshall — AKA Butter (Alex Kersting) — is recognized and ridiculed for his obesity. His peers bully him; his enabling, ethereal mother (Mira Sorvino) provides a steady stream of unhealthy plates of food, piled high with hotdog octopuses and crescent rolls in the shape of pigs. After enduring the cruelty of his peers and the neverending buffet delved out by mom, Butter takes his fate into his own hands — he sets a plan to live-stream eating himself to death on New Year’s Eve.
The film has been described as a dramedy and a comedy, and while I think it has elements of both, I’m not sure it strictly falls into one category or the other. Some parts of “Butter” are humorous — especially Butter’s mom’s strange and unique food presentations. Others are deeply heart-wrenching, like how Marshall got the moniker Butter.
All-in-all, “Butter” is a solid and entertaining film. Yes, there are some cliche teen-movie tropes at play, like the well-meaning teacher (Mykelti Williamson) who shows up to Butter’s house to impart his sagelike advice; and the storyline between Butter and popular girl Anna McGinn (McKaley Miller) — involving an online relationship under false pretenses. But, doesn’t every teenage, coming-of-age movie have a variation of these?
Really, it doesn’t matter how “Butter” is categorized. And for any of its minor trip-ups, ultimately, much like its protagonist, it’s simply tender and sweet. And, while “Butter” deals with some heavy issues — obesity, bullying, cyber-bullying, detachment, suicide — they don’t feel over-agenda focused (or alternately, underrepresented). Rather, “Butter” shines as simply an enjoyable story, made more enjoyable by Kersting’s performance. Not only is Kersting’s portrayal of a teen trying to assert some kind of control over what feels like a derailed freight train of a life believable — it’s relatable. Miller too adds charm as Butter’s unattainable love interest, whose naivety and bubbliness have echoes of Lindsay Lohan’s Cady Heron from “Mean Girls.”
What I appreciated most about “Butter” is how its plot and characters wiggle away from typical teen-movie formulas — not all the cool kids are punks, not all the nerds win, nor does everything end tied up with a pretty bow. True to life, there’s more to the story, and we don’t need to have it all spelled out to appreciate it.
Anyone who felt — or is feeling — the pangs of teenage torment, or are currently parenting teenagers, will likely resonate with this film. Phoenicians too will enjoy director Paul A. Kaufman’s directorial nods to the Valley, including recognizable aerial views and close-ups of Camelback Mountain. Ultimately, “Butter” is a refreshing break away from many of the raunchy or socially aggrandized teen movies you’ll find today. And, honestly, it’s just a lovely and entertaining film.
Here’s where to see ‘Butter’
Butter opens Feb., 25 in select theaters. Here’s where to see it in the Valley:
• AMC Ahwatukee 24
• AMC Arizona Center 24
• HARKNS Phoenix, AZ