Lee Daniels, director of the Oscar-nominated “Precious” and most recently “The Paperboy,” returns to theaters this weekend with “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey.
Loosely based on the real-life story of Eugene Allen, who worked as a White House butler under eight different presidents, the film follows Whitaker’s Cecil Gaines from his childhood on a cotton plantation to his tenure at America’s most famed address, tackling issues like racism and infidelity along the way.
Here’s what the critics have to say about “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.”
“Inspiring if not inspired, ‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’ is a sort of Readers’ Digest overview of the 20th century American civil rights movement centered on an ordinary individual with an extraordinary perspective. This fictionalized account of a Southern black man who worked as a White House butler under seven presidents from Eisenhower to Reagan is a very middle-of-the-road movie politically and aesthetically with myriad issues to carp about. But the long arc of this man’s story, which begins in a Georgia cotton field and ends with an invitation back to his longtime work place to meet the first black president of the United States, describes a personal, racial and national journey in a way that is quite moving and will have a powerful effect on all manner of audiences, with the presumed exception of highbrows and real leftists.” — Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter
Whitaker And Winfrey
“Whitaker works beautifully with Oprah Winfrey as Gloria, Cecil’s not-so-dutiful wife. Gloria sublimates her frustration over her husband’s 24/7 devotion to the Oval Office by finding sham solace in booze and a sleazy affair with a neighbor (Terrence Howard). Winfrey is a full-throttle wonder, filling her role with heart soul and a healing resilience. It’s Gloria who tries to give Cecil common ground with their two sons, neatly divided in their politics.” — Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
“But it is important to emphasize that ‘The Butler,’ unlike almost every other movie about race in America, is not primarily about the moral awakening of white people. Nor does it neatly divide whites into snarling bigots and paragons of tolerance. There are certainly instances of raw prejudice and of sincere decency, but the presidents are complex and contradictory creatures. Lyndon B. Johnson (Liev Schreiber) spews racial slurs even as he prepares to sign the most sweeping civil rights legislation since Lincoln. Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman) treats the black White House staff more fairly than any of his predecessors — his wife, Nancy (yes, that is Jane Fonda) invites Cecil to a state dinner — but fails to grasp the moral enormity of South African apartheid. They all appreciate Cecil’s service without ever quite seeing him fully as a person.” — A.O. Scott, New York Times
All Those Cameos
“A revolving door of stars in quasi-cameos takes the audience out of the movie. Viewers will find themselves musing, ‘Wow, Jane Fonda really looks like Nancy Reagan!’ and ‘Who knew Robin Williams could look so much like Eisenhower?” or ‘Wait, was that catatonic woman Mariah Carey?’ It is, however, refreshing to see a mainstream film dominated by black actors, in which white actors have small, supporting roles.” — Claudia Puig, USA Today
The Final Word
” ‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’ is an ambitious, sweeping period drama that manages to be incredibly affecting and feel as if the words ”For Your Consideration” are stamped across every frame.” — Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly