'Spinning' Gets Tiresome

Friday, March 27, 2009

Are you a racist? If you answer yes, then you'll hate "Spinning Into Butter." If you answer no, then you're a liar, says "Spinning Into Butter." And still you won't like the movie very much.

At the kind of sleepy Vermont college that artfully scatters Adirondack chairs about its quad, one of the few black students is the target of anonymous racial threats. When the situation blows up into a media firestorm, everyone at the school must confront his own deep-seated racism -- which, declares "Spinning Into Butter," infects every well-meaning liberal in America. Whether you find the movie's message compelling depends mostly on whether you secretly agree with this premise. Either way, though, it's unlikely you'll enjoy the experience of watching it.

Muddled and rhythmless, stage veteran Mark Brokaw's debut film fails as a drama, but succeeds somewhat as a catalogue of foolish white people, such as the floppy-haired senior who forms Students for Tolerance because he's applying to law school and is "a little short on extracurriculars."

As a college dean, Sarah Jessica Parker stares tremulously into the distance; the movie would've improved with a lead who wasn't so heavily invested in garnering our pity (such as Hope Davis, who played the role in the play). As a handsome, impossibly understanding black reporter, Mykelti Williamson does his best with a role that, added for the film adaptation, feels underwritten at best and like another manifestation of white guilt at worst. But then to interrogate the role at that level seems pointless, as "Spinning Into Butter," like its verbose, oversensitive characters, interrogates itself at tedious length.

The movie suffers most of all from a feeling of creeping irrelevance, as if it's being delivered well after its sell-by date. Based on the 1999 play by Rebecca Gilman, and shelved since filming completed in 2006, the film feels stuck in a particularly '90s-flavored argument -- about political correctness and culture wars on campus -- that you probably got tired of during your junior year.

But then again, you're a racist.

-- Dan Kois

Spinning Into Butter R, 86 minutes Contains language. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.

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