Vegan, I am here with my review for the movie.
"The Butler" follows the story of Cecil Gaines (played by Forest Whitaker), an African-American who witnesses many dramatic changes in American society (civil rights movement, Vietnam War, etc) while serving as a White House butler to eight presidents for over 30 years. The film is loosely based on the life of Eugene Allen, who worked for the White House for 34 years and retired as the head butler in 1986. Like everyone else, I had seen the previews and heard the Oscar-buzz surrounding the movie so naturally I was excited to see it. And knowing that a fellow Nigerian, David Oyelewo, was cast in one of the featured roles definitely made me extra giddy inside. Now while I did enjoy several moments during specific scenes of the film, I did not feel it provided any real emotional connection for me as a whole.
Like many race-related films I've watched in the past - Cry Freedom, A Time To Kill, Malcolm X, Sarafina!, Men of Honor - I expected this to be a powerful movie that would leave me somewhat of an emotional wreck; that was not the case. From the beginning of the film I felt some sort of a disconnect. There were pivotal scenes that were rushed through that in my opinion should have been expanded upon, like the rape scene of Cecil's mother (Mariah Carey's character) in the beginning; there was no sign of struggle, no visual imagery of the assault, nada! All we heard was one high-pitched cry of hers coming from the shack. Another scene that lacked real build-up time and appreciation was the spit scene at the counter-top in the diner; that was one of the most vicious scenes in the movie yet it lacked spotlighting and was brushed past rather quickly.
As for the actors performances, most of them did alright. The only people that stood out to me were Forest Whitaker, because it was evident he implicitly embodied the character of Cecil Gaines, and Oprah Winfrey as Gloria Gaines (Cecil's wife) because she was just bloody hilarious to watch.
As for my bros David, unfortunately the only word that comes to mind is "boring." It's obvious he's been classically trained but aside from that, he too also failed to generate an emotional connection from me. I kept looking for some sort of justification for his anger and disrespectful behavior towards his father but I found none. To me he came off as a spoiled child whose father worked hard to feed, clothe, shelter, and send off to college! I would have preferred if the film had included a few memorable personal experiences of racism towards David's character that prompted his anger and desire for rebellion.
Then comes the other celebrity cast members. From Mariah Carey to Lenny Kravitz to Cuba Gooding Jr. to Jane Fonda to Robin Williams and even to David Banner, this was truly an all-star studded cast. The problem is I think the movie became more about "spotting the celebrity" rather than following an intriguing story of the partial history of race relations and civil rights in America. Most of the celebs had short cameos that were nice to see, yes, but not necessarily required.There was nothing specific about their acting that really stood out to me so they could just as well have been replaced by lesser-known actors. It was clear they were added to generate mass appeal for the film and not much else. I could go on about other things I felt should have been improved upon but I don't want to spoil too much for those of you who plan to see it.
In general, the movie was good but not great to me. Although I thought it was overly ambitious, based on the subject matter, I did find certain moments touching (like the training practice for the sit-in at the segregated diner) and I did laugh quite a bit. If I had to give it a rating, it would be a 6/10 (largely due to the performances by Forest and Oprah). For those of you who haven't seen it I recommend you check it out for yourself because it received great success at the box office, with many glowing reviews, and you might just have a different emotional experience from it than I had. Either way, I would love to know your take on the movie lovelies:-)