As a rabid Anglophile, I
even have favorite fictional butlers. My all-time favorite was Steven Fry as
Jeeves but I’m also quite partial to Gordon Jackson as Mr. Hudson on Upstairs
Downstairs. The semi-eponymous butler of the
title of the recent film is definitely more Angus Hudson than Jeeves. He’s more
royalist than the King, by analogy at least.
I wasn’t sure if I’d like The Butler but
I did, even if it *was* uplifting. I typically hate uplifting movies but this one was
pretty good despite the odd melodramatic swell of music that sounded rather Max
Steineresque. In short, many things about this movie were old school,
which isn’t a bad thing in a sweeping highly fictionalized historical biopic
such as this one.
I also don’t like Oprah Winfrey: martyred shopper.
But she was one of the best things about this movie as the butler’s boozy,
cheating spouse. I cannot tell you how relieved I was that Oprah’s character
wasn’t noble. (I guess I just did.) Her minions will be clamoring for her to be
Oscarized and I won’t object or Henry Cavil about it either. Sorry, Homan…
I enjoyed Forest Whitaker and his White House
colleagues as played by Lenny Kravitz and a shockingly dignified Cuba Gooding Jr. The
latter never once hollered, and the only time he showed the money was when he
bailed young Louis Gaines out of the pokey.
Now that I’ve briefly described what I liked about
the movie, it’s time to mention the bits I didn’t like in teevee recap
Louis Gaines as ForrestGump:
I didn’t read anything about the movie before seeing it BUT I knew right off
that Forest and Oprah’s oldest offspring had to be fictional. He was *always* there
for every important moment of the Civil Rights movement. Not only did he attend
Fisk and become a freedom rider, but he just happened to be on the bus that a
mob of Alabamans burned to a Coco Crisp and was there when MLK was murdered. Then, he became an early Black Panther
complete with a beret and a hot surly girlfriend with an awesome ‘fro. Then, Louis
ran for Congress and eventually became an anti-apartheid activist. Not 100% impossible but unlikely.
The character of course was pure-D fiction.
Having complained about Louis Gump, I did enjoy
the father-son interplay between the uptight establishment dad and his radical
son. It happened in the best of families. They called it the g-g-g-g-eneration gap.
Stunt Casting Blues: Most of the
much ballyhooed stunt casting fizzled. Hairy, stocky Robin Williams as svelte,
tall General/President Eisenhower? Not bloody likely. James Marsden as JFK
was a bit better but looked more like Kennedy circa 1952 than
1961. Plus, faux Jackie called him John. Nobody called him anything but
Jack even Rose. I know that because Lloyd Bentsen told me
Liev Schreiber had the
bulk and crudeness of LBJ just right but his makeup sucked. I kept staring at
his fake ears and kept waiting for them to fall off. (That’s what happens when
you’re a Face Off fanatic, you notice the makeup.) I did,
however, get a kick out of the scene of him issuing orders whilst seated on the
crapper. It was historically accurate weirdness, y’all. But I think that Liev should stick
to narrating HBO documentaries and not play LBJ again.
The worst bit of stunt casting was Glenn Greenwald acolyte
John Cusack as Tricky Dick. They went to the opposite extreme with
him and didn’t give him *any* Nixonian features. One can play Tricky without imitating his voice
but you need the ski-jump Nixonian nose. The whole thing played like a SNL skit but Dan Aykroyd was more
convincing as the Trickster.
The one bit of stunt casting that worked was Rickman and Fonda
as the Reagans. People have compared Rickman’s makeup
to a waxwork and that’s why it’s so perfect: Ronnie always looked slightly
unreal in his White House Days. Jane Fonda looked and sounded fabulous as Nancy
and that bit of stunt casting pissed off all the wingnuts, but not
Mrs. Reagan herself according to her son Ron. Of course, he’s a librul so his
views should be discounted. What does he know? He’s only Reagan’s son and namesake…
Whatever the truth of the details presented in the
movie, they nailed Ronald Reagan. He was the direct opposite of LBJ. Reagan was genuinely
compassionate to individuals but clueless when it came to the unwashed masses.
LBJ, on the other hand, was a miserable sumbitch who
treated people like shit but declared war on poverty and meant it.
The Plantation Scene: A string of cliches that weren’t
based on the story of Eugene
Allen (the model for the reel Cecil Gaines) and
were badly set up and shot. The redneck dude who killed Papa Gaines and
interfered with Mama Gaines had a 2013 hipster hairdo and beard. Plus, Mariah Carey as
Forest Whitaker’s mother? Yikes. That was another piece of stunt casting gone
awry. At least she didn’t sing…
Now that I’ve bashed parts of the movie, I must admit to *really* liking at
least 75% of it. I’m not sure if was an “antidote” to The
Help as some folks have written, but it was an entertaining and well-acted
film. And that’s something one cannot say about most summer releases. I’d give
it 3 stars or a letter grade of B. It could have been better but it could have
been much, much worse.