August 19, 2013
A whole crew of us went to see Lee Daniels’ The Butler on Saturday night.
“I think they tried to put too much in,” one of my friends said as the credits rolled. Ten minutes later, when we were gathered outside the theater, she added, “And they left out Malcolm X.”
I said it’s not really fair to fault the movie for covering too much and then fault it for leaving things out. Packing eight presidential administrations into a two hour movie is no easy feat.
While I wish some of the scenes, such as the dramatic opening in the cotton fields, had been mined for more emotional impact, here is what I really liked about the movie.
Cecil Gaines grows up from a child witnessing his father get murdered with impunity by a white sharecropper, to an old man watching the first African American get elected President of the United States. That is a pretty amazing and profound journey.
I was coming out of the restroom and a couple I had never met before asked me how the movie was. (Why did they assume I’d seen this particular movie? Ha ha!) Anyway, among other things, I said that is was so fantastic seeing all these A-list actors playing all these different parts. Forest, Oprah, David, Cuba, Lenny, all givens. Then you got Alan Rickman (Harry Potter) as Ronald Reagan and Nelsan Ellis (True Blood) as Martin Luther King, Jr. Gold and diamonds.
Some scenes of brilliance
One that stands out in my mind is the montage of the butlers serving fancy meals at the White House intercut with the Fisk University students getting abused at the Woolworth lunch counter sit-ins intercut with the Fisk University students training for the abuse at the lunch counter sit-ins. Gripping and troubling stuff.
Screenplay writer Danny Strong, who played Jonathan in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Doyle in Gilmore Girls, has a cameo in the movie during the Freedom Riders scene. And what a cute-as-dickens cameo it is.
A few of us went out for drinks after the movie, and one of the gang, referencing one of Cuba Gooding Jr.’s lines, said, “No, seriously, who is Franco?” Someone passed around a smartphone with the Franco Wikipedia page loaded. It’s not often a movie inspires history lessons over glasses of wine at an Italian restaurant on a Saturday night.
It’s twenty-four hours later and I’m still running scenes through my head. The group consensus was, we wouldn’t have missed seeing this movie for the world.
The other thing I did this weekend was stop by Kaboom Test Labs to pick up my latest stash of comics. Once again, I am woefully behind. The Kaboom clerk started talking to me about Batman and I said I had left off with the one about the sister and brother. “Oh, Harper Row? She’s awesome. And, yeah, you are way back.”