Movie Review: ‘Butter’

Greetings again from the darkness. Being a high school kid has always been challenging, and today’s added pressures of social media makes being an outlier almost unbearable at times. Writer-director Paul A Kaufman (in his feature film directing debut) has adapted the 2012 novel by Erin Jade Lange into a film that tackles several emotional hurdles, some of which are downright devastating.

Marshall (an excellent Alex Kirsting) is a morbidly obese high school student. He plays a mean jazz saxophone, yet yearns to be heard, seen, and accepted as a person, rather than as a target for the bullies who call him “Butter”. He weighs in at 423 pounds at the dietician’s office, and he’s catfishing Anna (McKaley Miller), his secret crush at school. Online, he’s posing as JP, a soccer star at a private school, and Anna confides secrets so that he can provide sage advice. At home, his mother (Mira Sorvino) enables him with her ‘food art’, while his dad (Brian Van Holt) barely acknowledges the presence of his fat son.

There are no heroes in this story, and despite being partially described as a comedy, this is in fact a dark commentary on how people behave. Butter is so fed up (unintended pun) and desperate to be seen, he devises a plan to go out with a bang. He creates a website and announces online that he will literally eat himself to death. Yep, suicide by smorgasbord at midnight on New Year’s Eve via live webcast. The reaction of his fellow students catches him off guard. Butter becomes popular overnight. People talk to him … while at the same time placing bets and serving up menu suggestions for the final feast.

Butter also provides the narration to his own story, and along the way we meet his doctors played by Ravi Patel and Annabeth Gish, and a supportive teacher played by Mykelti Williamson who encourages Butter to expand his musical talents. We note how attitudes change once communication and interactions replace withdrawal and ignoring. Some of the heavy topics handled here include bullying, suicide, depression, eating disorders, low self-esteem, a lack of empathy and compassion, and body-shaming. It’s interesting to watch as the classmates and Butter get to know each other, how Anna shows there is more to her than a pretty face, and how Butter’s parents seem oblivious to their son’s internalized feelings. The film does get a little preachy near the end, but for the most part, it’s a pretty effective look at what it’s like being an outcast.

In theaters February 25, 2022

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