A hate crime on the campus of a New England college puts the school's dean in a position where she has to examine her own feelings about race and prejudice, while maintaining her administration's politically correct policies.
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Sarah Daniels taught in a Lancaster school and developed deep prejudice against minorities, especially blacks. She decided to re-locate to Belmont, Vermont with the hopes that it will be 'all white', and gets hired in Belmont College. She does not disclose her past to anyone, but when an African-American student, Simon Brick, becomes the victim of hate crime, she soon realizes that not only will her past return to haunt her, she will be expected to be the liaison person for the minorities, as well as be asked to prepare a 10-point bullet-ed list to resolve racism. Written by
In "Spinning Into Butter," a small ivy-covered college in Vermont, known for its liberal views and tolerant policies, is rocked by a racial incident aimed at a recently enrolled black student. Soon the incident has exposed a vein of racism running through the faculty and student body that has long lain hidden beneath a veneer of white liberal guilt and political correctness.
Sarah Jessica Parker plays Sarah Daniels, the newly arrived Dean of Students who has to take the lead in quelling the crisis, but who may have issues of her own regarding race to deal with. Veteran actor Beau Bridges also appears as a fellow dean.
Based on the play by Rebecca Gilman (who co-wrote the screenplay with Doug Atchinson), "Spinning Into Butter," directed by Mark Brokaw, starts off with the best of intentions, pinpointing some of the complexities inherent in an issue we too often sweep under the rug in an effort to avoid dealing with it. And the movie does an effective job highlighting the irony that sometimes it is the very well-intentioned efforts we make to try to alleviate the negative effects of racism - quotas, forced integration, segregation in the name of "cultural pride" etc. - that wind up actually exacerbating the problem in the end. The film also makes the rather provocative case that even in a mostly white, socially liberal enclave like Vermont, racism still exists, though since it is rooted more in the subconscious, it is more likely to manifest itself in covert rather than overt ways there. It's a daring and risky theme and one the filmmakers should be congratulated for at least having the courage to bring out in the open.
However, noble intentions notwithstanding, the heavy-handed approach the movie takes towards the topic ultimately robs it of much of its effectiveness. Too often the characters sound less like real people than like spokespersons for individual causes. Moreover, the staging of events is frequently awkward, the drama needlessly contrived. And the resolution of the conflict, quite frankly, borders on the preposterous. Additionally, the performances, with the exception of Parker's, lack any mitigating trace of polish and finesse.
There's no denying that there are moments of quality scattered throughout the film, and that the autumnal New England scenery is absolutely lovely (though a very small part of the exteriors were filmed - seamlessly, I might add - at the high school in Los Angeles where I work). Yet, sad to say, "Spinning Into Butter" emerges as probably the clunkiest and most self-satisfied examination of race relations in America since the urban drama "Crash."
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