“Spinning Into Butter” is the perfect example of a movie taking a fairly interesting premise — in this case, the collision of political correctness and hate crimes on college campuses — and, through sheer incompetence of acting, writing and directing, turning it into an unwatchable mess.
Sarah Jessica Parker stars as Sarah Daniels, the dean of students at a (very) liberal arts school in the hills of Vermont. As the movie opens, a hate crime has been committed: Threatening notes using a racial slur against one of the few black students on campus have been tacked to his door.
The campus goes into an uproar. Administrators are worried about the incident tarnishing their school’s image. A reporter shows up on campus to get the scoop after an anonymous tip. Black students blame the administration for trying to paper over the situation; white students blame the black students for self-segregating.
“Spinning Into Butter” scores some points for being unafraid to examine the callow personalities of modern college administrators. Filled with white liberal guilt, they think that organizing a “forum” to lecture the students about just how much they appreciate diversity, or coming up with a “ten point plan to end racism,” will accomplish their goal of improving race relations (and, more important, create the appearance that they’re trying to do something). Frustrated by the students’ refusal to buy into their efforts, a dean played by Beau Bridges screams at a group of riled up minority students, “I marched at Selma” and “I sacrificed for you people!”
At which point the forum breaks out into a race riot.
Handled competently, the scene might have been riveting. The dialogue is so bald and so stripped of nuance, however, that the entire sequence comes across as forced, not to mention laughable.
That lack of nuance is a running problem in “Spinning Into Butter.” Characters routinely sit down and just talk. And talk. And talk. Sometimes, for a fascinating change of pace, they stand and talk, or walk and talk.
You can get away with that if you have an A-list cast (see: “Doubt”). You can’t get away with this if you’re expecting Sarah Jessica Parker to carry your movie. Miss Parker isn’t a bad actress, per se, but she’s clearly out of her depth with this subject matter. She’s better served salivating over Jimmy Choos than trying to solve America’s race problem.
Not that any actor could do much with a script as bad as this one, dominated by clunky dialogue like: “I mean, we might as well be in Mississippi, 1963. All we need is guys in hoods burning crosses on the quad.”
The one standout performance is that of Paul James, the young victim of the hate crimes. As the case draws to a close and the perpetrator is revealed, the internal struggle that Mr. James’ character undergoes as “Spinning Into Butter” draws to a conclusion is one of the film’s more poignant moments.
TITLE: “Spinning Into Butter”
RATING: R (language)
CREDITS: Written by Doug Atchison and Rebecca Gilman
RUNNING TIME: 86 minutes
WEB SITE: www.screenmediafilms.net/spinning
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS