Friday, February 07, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013) ***

PG-13, 132 min.
Director: Lee Daniels
Writer: Danny Strong
Starring: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz, Terrence Howard, Mariah Carey, Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Redgrave, Clarence Williams III, Ami Ameen, Jim Gleason, Colman Domingo, Adriane Lennox, Pernell Walker, Robin Williams, John Cusack, Yaya Alfia, Jesse Williams, James Marsden, Minka Kelly, Chloe Barach, Elijah Kelley, Liev Schreiber, Nelsan Ellis, Colin Walker, Alex Manette, Alan Rickman, Jane Fonda

“Important” films like “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” are often hard to judge. Many times people will confuse the importance of the message or historical poignancy with the success of the film. It also becomes more muddled when you have well-known stars playing historical figures in cameo. When a big name star takes on a real life figure in a leading or supporting role, they are often praised just for doing the role. When the role is only a cameo however, people often find the big name stars a distraction if only because they can recognize the actor.

“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” has all these things going for or against it. The truth is it’s a good movie, not a great one. It covers the important issue of racism within a historical context; and since the film isn’t a tragic miscalculation, it’s worth watching for that reason. It isn’t the best historical recollection of the progress against racism in this country. It really only glazes over the intricacies of how racism has worked on this country’s national psyche. It doesn’t get deep into any personal experiences, even though the entire movie is seen through the eyes of a black man who serves on the White House staff for decades. But it does criticize the way our leaders have dealt with the issue.

I didn’t find the cameos as distracting as most people have. John Cusack’s Nixon nose is a little much, yes. I’m sure the Reagans are rolling over in their graves with Jane Fonda portraying Nancy, but she really was perfect for the role.  For the most part, though, I felt they all could’ve handled feature-length incarnations of their roles.

What bugs me the most about “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” is the fact that I have to type “Lee Daniels’” before “The Butler” every time I invoke the title. Shame on Warner Bros. for not allowing the use of the title “The Butler”. Seriously, since when can you own a title? 

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