That Spinning Into Butter suffers from its origins as a play — with the dialogue-as-action baggage that comes with the form —is apparent from the start. When the door of Simon Brick (Paul James), an African-American student in the mostly white town of Belmont, Vermont, is defaced with a racial epithet, his college’s all-white administration rushes to quietly address the ”issue.“ Their solution — light on action, heavy on words — is to hold a “forum on race” to create a dialogue with the students. Sounding more like a monologue — or, more accurately, PR spin — than a discussion, the forum only further alienates the diverse student body. Thus begins a series of misunderstandings, brought on by the incongruity of words and action, between students and faculty; all the while, incidents of on-campus racial aggression continue to escalate.
What would be a workable, if well-traveled thesis on ethnic divide fails when the film falls subject to its own criticisms regarding the elevation of words over actions. Is it ironic or just unfortunate that the words forced into the mouths of the students and faculty are heavy-handed and predictable? In a play, concepts can be presented in the form of secondary characters to illustrate a point, but in a film it is much more difficult: they come off at best as undeveloped, and at worst as stereotyped— problematic, in a film about stereotyping.