“Butter” is not a sequel to the 2011 Jennifer Garner film (although that one is well-worth seeing), but finds a unique story as it duplicates that title. Tackling the topic of obesity and suicide through insight and comedy, writer and director Paul A. Kaufman adapts Erin Jade Lange’s book of the same name into a movie that is funny yet poignant.
Butter (Alex Kersting) is a a teenage boy’s nickname, obtained in a bullying attack that literally will have you choking. We meet this young man, a morbidly obese yet talented jazz saxophonist, who lives his life in his room on the internet and through his music. But like any youngster, he dreams of love and a different life. In a desperate attempt to do so, he announces publicly that he plans to eat himself to death on New Year’s Eve.
As the deadline of the event draws near, Butter has somehow found the life he wanted. No longer is he invisible or worse, the brunt of all the kids’ ridicule and jeers. He now has friends. They invite him to hang out, to party, and to live. He also has befriended his love from afar, Anna (McKaley Miller) who, unbeknownst to her, is also the boy with whom she is having an anonymous on-line flirtatious conversation.
Butter narrates much of the film as it allows us to understand not only his feelings and perspectives, but also his relationships with his parents and teachers. His mother (Mira Sorvino) inadvertently contributes to the obesity problem while his non-communicative father dwells in the outskirts of his life. Professor Dunn (Mykelti Williamson) bridges the gap of school and reality, and his doctor (Ravi Patel) both provide a safety net of adults with whom to go, but Butter just can’t see through his own pain and how to reach out for help.
On the surface, “Butter” is certainly a comedy, but at it’s heart, it’s a drama as it explores a time period in our lives that most of us wouldn’t go back to for any amount of money; high school. Navigating this time is difficult enough without being obviously different; being excessively overweight. As we begin to know Butter better and have hope that he will see his own value, the emotions run high and we brace for the ending.
Kersting is a treasure in this role as Butter with his comedic timing and expressive face and voice. His interactions with his classmates, his awkward love interest, and the adults in his life are all quite authentic even when some of the others feel a bit contrived. Jack Griffo (Parker) and Matthew Gold (Tucker) stand out as Butter’s new-found friends and Miller finds the right notes to play the pretty girl who has her own issues to unwrap.
Kaufman takes our hand to lead us along Butter’s journey, exploring what happens psychologically and physically to someone in emotional pain. Kaufman also beautifully allows his main character to find not only who he really is and can be, but how to take control of his life.
Butter is a film that dares to talk about these tough topics that may help start your own conversations with your teens at home.