The long-awaited release of Lee Daniels’ star-studded film The Butler is happening today and moviegoers are ready. The film is expected to open with a weekend box office take of $20 million to $25 million, which would put it ahead of the other big new release for this weekend Kick-A$$ 2 and likely put it in the number one spot. Jobs, the biopic about Steve Jobs starring Ashton Kutcher, and Paranoia starring Harrison Ford and one of the Hemsworth brothers (Liam) are also opening, but they’re not expected to be a threat. Reviews for all three of the other new releases have been pretty bad, according to MTV News.
Reviews for Lee Daniels’ The Butler – which, it should be remembered, is a fictionalized account based on a true story and has the director’s name tacked on to the title because of a legal dispute – have been mixed. The New York Times today calls it a “brilliantly truthful movie” and praises the look and feel of the film. (You can thank Ruth Carter for some of the look of it. She served as costume designer for the film and spoke with us about that here.) “The genius of ‘The Butler’ lies in the sly and self-assured way it connects public affairs to private experience,” the review says.
Though referencing some of the film’s “stunt casting,” The Chicago Sun-Times says , “I believe every American student over the age of 12 should see this film, but that doesn’t mean it’s one of those good-for-you movies that feels like a history assignment. This is an important film presented as mainstream entertainment. It’s a great American story.”
And The Hollywood Reporter, though taking issue with one of the brutal opening scenes for its “caricaturing,” says about the film, “[E]ven with all contrivances and obvious point-making and familiar historical signposting, Daniels’ The Butler is always engaging, often entertaining and certainly never dull, the latter a fault for which neither the director nor the writer, thus far in their careers, can ever be accused. Each scene has its purpose and complimentary energy, the actors all seem unified in a joint cause and the angle from which the historical panorama is presented remains sufficiently unusual to sustain rapt attention.”
However, some of the reviews are not quite as positive. The Root says, “But what should have been a powerful story about one black man’s intimate relationship with power chokes on the struggle to give voice to ‘millions of black strivers’ and tips toward schmaltz. The all-star cast refuses to dim its lights in service of the humble butler’s story.”
The Wall Street Journal eviscerates the film with, “The contrivance is stretched to its breaking point over a running time of 132 minutes; some of the episodes cross a different line from almost plausible to downright silly.”
Across the board, there are references to the Oscar potential of the film, its resemblance to Forrest Gump, and the alternating good and bad performances of individual actors. Besides Whitaker and Oprah, Robin Williams, Jane Fonda, Mariah Carey, John Cusack and Alex Pettyfer all make appearances. And while most reviews are happy to see this perspective on the big screen, one that’s usually missing, they see problems of cliche and melodrama in the film.
We haven’t seen the move yet, but the ads showcasing Forest Whitaker’s performance show an understated power that we’ve seen in most of his other performances. And Oprah looks divine! We’ll be checking it out. Will you?