Movie Review: Lee Daniels’ The Butler

I headed into Lee Daniels’ The Butler with high expectations. Lee Daniels’ The Butler tells the real life story of Cecil Gaines, an African-American butler who served in the White House for over 30 years. An average man who interacted with some of the most powerful individuals of the last 50 years. With a star-studded cast playing historical figures, how could this movie not be great? Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker was in the lead, risk-taker Lee Daniels was directing and Oprah Winfrey was returning to the big screen to play Cecil’s troubled wife Gloria. I have spoken in the past that low expectations can lead to a pleasant surprise. The flip side, sometimes high expectations can bring big disappointments.

The phrase “too much of a good thing” should apply to Lee Daniels’ The Butler. There’s just way too much going on in the film with multiple story lines that are not given enough time to develop. The glimpses of the day-to-day operations in the White House with Cecil interacting with the leaders of the free world I found to be very intriguing. Seeing the quirks and the behind the scenes true feelings of the presidents could have made for a great film on its own with Cecil as the constant throughout history.

Unfortunately we are abruptly taken away from the presidential content and forced to endure Cecil’s rather bland home life that does nothing for the viewer’s entertainment. Even the story line with Cecil’s oldest son Louis (David Oyelowo) joining the Freedom Riders and the Black Panthers slows down the flow of Lee Daniels’ The Butler. I actually thought the Louis storyline was more compelling than Cecil’s drunk wife, but that should have been its own separate film. Lee Daniels tries to cram way too much content into Lee Daniels’ The Butler‘s 132 minute running time and it leaves the audience with a long bloated mess.

The last thing I want to discuss is the casting in Lee Daniels’ The Butler. The cast is stocked from head to toe with the likes of James Marsden, Terrence Howard, Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz. Some of the cast shines such as, Liev Schreiber as a crude President Johnson and we are treated to the welcome return of Cuba Gooding Jr. in a quality role as the head White House Butler. There are some solid performances, but the problem is the bad casting outweighs the good in Lee Daniels’ The Butler.

Oprah’s performance in Lee Daniels’ The Butler is underwhelming at best and I’m a fan of Oprah as an actress. Alan Rickman looks way too young in the role as President Reagan and John Cusack’s prosthetic performance is ridiculous as Nixon. I kid you not, he’s Lloyd Dobler with a rubber nose. Also when it comes to age, Forest Whitaker can’t pull off looking like a young man. He looked like he was 40 when he played a high schooler in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The early scenes with Whitaker are almost distracting considering his aged appearance. Remember casting directors, it’s much easier to make a young person look old than it is to make an old person look young. Lee Daniels’ The Butler had potential, but it gets bogged down with meaningless subplots (I’m pointing at you Terrence Howard) and poor casting choices. Overall, I give Lee Daniels’ The Butler 2 out of 4 potatoes.

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