I’m one of those people who loves historical, fact-based movies, but also scoffs out loud in the theater when these flicks get stuff wrong.
But I tried really hard to ignore the historical “fiction” occasionally portrayed in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” because most of the movie was really, really terrific.
Forest Whitaker was outstanding as Cecil Gaines, a character based on the real life of Grayson Allen, who was a butler at the White House from Eisenhower through Reagan.
Oprah is also terrific as his wife, and the supporting cast, including Alan Rickman, Cuba Gooding Jr., James Marsden, and Terrence Howard, are all fabulous. (I still can’t believe that Lloyd Dobler from “Say Anything” (John Cusack) is, 25 years later, playing Richard Nixon. I couldn’t wrap my head around that at all.)
The movie is a “Forrest Gump”-like trip through American civil rights history, and it’s beautifully shot and beautifully written by screenwriter Danny Strong. I highly recommend it.
But… two things bothered me. Number one, there is absolutely zero subtlety in this film. Daniels hits you over the head five times while making every point in the movie; it’s not just that Cecil can’t relate to his son’s 1960s activism; we have to see 11 different examples of him not relating to his son.
I wish some of the time Daniels had let us just read into some things for ourselves, that’s all.
The other thing that peeved me was the historical inaccuracy. It’s absolutely not true that John F. Kennedy was strong on civil rights and empathized with African-Americans in the South in the early 1960s; Bobby Kennedy was the moral conscience of the family, but the movie makes JFK into a bit of a hero on civil rights.
And to portray Ronald Reagan as a friend of the “common man,” as the movie does, is just lunacy.
Still, I definitely recommend the film, and hope it does well come Academy Award season.
**I love that there are people who come up with stuff like this: A treehouse elevator, on a bicycle. Ethan Schussler, you deserve a prize for this invention.
God bless America.
**And finally today, you know I love newspaper corrections, and this one is destined for the Corrections Hall of Fame (if there was such a thing.)
Check out what the New York Times corrected today, after a story about documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock last week:
Awesome. So glad we cleared that up. The most frightening part of that correction for me, though, is that Spurlock made a movie about One Direction.