Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews




picture - Spinning Into ButterFilm Review

by William Gooch

published March 27, 2009


Spinning Into Butter

rated R

now playing in select theaters


With the election of an African-American president, political pundits contend that we now live in a post-racial society. Gone are the days of down-with-whitey forums, racial discrimination lawsuits and political rhetoric wrapped around racial inequality. Though Attorney General Eric Holder has admonished Americans to have a conversation on race, most people want to believe that we have reached racial neutrality.


In Mark Brokaw’s Spinning Into Butter, the politically correct scrim that inhibits people from honestly discussing race and looking at their own issues is pulled back, revealing a raw, bumpy road of racial landmines that most of us dare not tread. Based on Rebecca Gilman’s 1999 play, Spinning Into Butter takes a pointed look at entrenched racism in higher education.


A racial incident has occurred at Belmont College, an elite New England school known for being a bastion of liberal thought and ideology. Sarah Daniels (Sarah Jessica Parker), the new Dean of Students, in her attempt to mediate and find a solution to the escalating hate crimes is forced to look at her own issues around race and racial profiling in higher education.


Spinning Into Butter doggedly asks questions that many films of its ilk categorically fail to ask. Should American-born students of color be asked to accept scholarships based on their ethnicity when they don’t identify in any way with that ethnicity? Do the bad choices of one reflect on the whole?  Behind the veil of political correctness, is there a racist boogeyman? And lastly, how productive is white liberal guilt?


Though some of the dialogue in Spinning Into Butter seems dated and some of the characterizations are a bit out of focus, Mark Brokaw has assembled a superb cast that injects pathos and integrity into a film that deals honestly with a subject that is still very uncomfortable. And Rebecca Gilman has done a fine job in digging beneath the surface of academic smugness, unearthing the dirty, systemic racism that is still a part of the ivy-covered walls of elite learning institutions.


It is so refreshing to see Sarah Jessica Parker take on a role where is she is not a fashionista or someone’s trophy girlfriend. As of late, Parker’s film repertoire has been limited to one-dimensional characters that after a few witty diatribes fail to hold interest. She has so much more to offer and Spinning Into Butter gives her the opportunity to portray a character whose angst is about something more than Jimmy Choo shoes or boyfriends. Parker is successful in Spinning because, like most great actresses, she knows how to intimate what is going on in the character’s mind when there is no dialogue. She also understands how to portray characters that have internal conflict, for which there is no easy solution to what ails them.


There seems to be a small wealth of recently released movies that don’t provide easy answers or resolve conflict. What they do facilitate are questions about life, love and sustainability. Some truths can never reconcile the past, but truth can provide freedom for a different reality, halting the spin and creating what is honest and true.


williamgooch @


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