MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo By The Weinstein Company
Directed by Lee Daniels. Starring Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey.
Eugene Allen was a butler that served in the White House for eight presidents (from Eisenhower to Obama). The Butler is inspired by Allen’s true-life story, but has its own alternative tale to tell about the fictitious butler Cecil Gaines (Whitaker), his family, civil rights, and the events that take place during his long life of upscale servitude to the rich and powerful.
Cecil is the son of Georgia sharecroppers. When his parents (as a result of acts of shocking cruelty) are no longer able to care for him, he is given the opportunity of being trained as a house servant on the estate. From there, he will eventually leave town to find his future in Washington, D.C., first as a hotel waiter and then a member of the White House support staff.
Cecil and his wife (Winfrey) will try to make a life for themselves without making great waves with the status quo. As they watch their sons grow into adolescence and adulthood, their son Louis (David Oyelowo) will go off to college, join the Freedom Riders, work with Martin Luther King Jr. (Nelsan Ellis) and join the Black Panther movement.
Meanwhile, Cecil will have the opportunity to chat with various presidents for brief periods of time, usually responding to their concerns about race relations.
There’s a lot of history crammed into The Butler’s 130 minutes, and I guess that the film could serve as a nice refresher course on the civil rights movement. I just never quite warmed up to the ways in which the Gaines family participated in every major event of their time, in a “Forrest Gump” or “Mister Peabody” kind of fashion
Some good performances by the leads are offset by a series of hammy Presidential impressions that reminded me of an off night on SNL. The best cameo is, ironically, Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan!
Drama, humor and history, get stirred together into a big stewpot of a film. The film is clunky and clumsily edited, with an irritating voiceover narration by the older Cecil Gaines that often describes exactly what you’ve just seen on screen. The movie is marred by some really crude language and humor, including the punch line to an offensive and not-very-good dirty joke.
The Butler is being promoted as one of those all-star epics that is good for you. In spite of its roster of A-list actors, I never found the movie to be much better than average. I predict that history itself will not be kind to this film.
Hopefully The Butler will lead you to better films as well as the actual history of the civil rights movement.
Four halos: Positive values about the value of family and the struggle against racism, stuck in the middle of a mediocre movie.
Four pitchforks: Racism, violence, off-screen rape, crude sexual and scatological humor, PG-13 swearing.
Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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