Maddy’s Movies: Lee Daniels’ “The Butler” is a powerful and moving start to the fall dramas

Maddy Mesa

UPWEB_MM_TheButlerSay hello to fall. Gone are the summer blockbusters, here starts the trail of Oscar worthy movies. The nods to actors and actresses, the movies that touch your soul. And Lee Daniels’ “The Butler” is first in lime.

The movie is based on the real life story of the White House butler, Eugene Allen, who worked at the White House for 34 years. A remarkable Forest Whitaker plays the title role as Cecil Gaines.

A cotton picker in the 1920s Cecil –– through unfortunate circumstances –– becomes a “house nigga” where he is first taught how to serve white people. Leaving the South for better opportunity in the North, Cecil finds himself working in a hotel in North Carolina, then at a hotel in Washington D.C. and finally the White House.

In that time he marries his wife Gloria (an unforgettable Oprah Winfrey) and has two kids Charlie (Elijah Kelley) and Louis (David Oyelowo).

Cecil joins the White House staff at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. He is in the room with the President and his advisors for some of their major decisions. Yet, as Cecil has been taught, “you hear nothing, you see nothing, you are here to serve.”

I don’t know how Lee Daniels (“Precious” and “The Paperboy”) does it. He flawlessly not only tells the story of Cecil Gains as a White House butler, but also the complicated relationship between father and son, a shaky yet loving marriage with wife Gloria, history witnessed firsthand by many of the characters and the powerful interactions between Cecil and the presidents throughout the years.

There is a lot going on in the movie, but it is well done. Scenes run smoothly from one storyline to the next –– a great accomplishment in a movie with so many characters and plots.

The contrasting scenes in the film are some of the most powerful and brought tears to my eyes. You see Louise down in Alabama participating in sit-ins and feel the hate radiating from the white diners. And at the same time, there is the calm collectiveness of Cecil and his fellow butlers serving guests at the White House. There is the true feel the fear of the Freedom Riders, then sensitivity from Cecil reading Carolina Kennedy a bedtime story.

I don’t know why Daniels likes to send the audience on this roller coaster but there is no rest for your emotions in this movie. One moment you’ll be laughing at the foul mouthed butler Carter Wilson (Cuba Gooding Jr.) joking with co-worker James Holloway (Lenny Kravitz)  and the next you’ll be weeping alongside Jacqueline Kennedy (Minka Kelly) at the death of her husband.

 No disrespect to Mr. Whitaker who is just wonderful to watch in this film, but if Oprah Winfrey does not get even a nomination for her role as Gloria, I’m going to throw a table. Yes, Cecil survived hardships and made sure he provided a good life for his family. But while Cecil was at the White House and a bit oblivious to his son’s actions in the Civil Rights movement, it was Gloria that kept it strong and held her family together.

She is far from perfect –– drinking and whatnot –– but she is the rock Cecil comes home to every night. She is glue that keeps the estranged father and son relationship together. Winfrey brings out the raw realness of Gloria and is amazing to watch.

The rest of the supporting actors give great strength to this film. Though their roles were brief, Robin Williams, John Cusack, James Marsden, Liev Schreiber and Alan Rickman as America’s presidents left their impact on the audience.

I see a lot of nominations in this movie’s future, and rightfully so –– It is an important film. It is a film that shows our country’s history. It is a film that shows the true strength of a family through all it’s troubles. And, it is a movie that shows how far people have come.

Toward the end of the film, Cecil witnesses the election of our first African American president. Words can’t even describe the man’s face. It is an expression of joy, hope, and astoundment. To see this triumph, to see the 2008 Obama election through this man’s eyes, only then can you truly grasp how far we as a nation and as a people have come.

It’s hard to find anything wrong with this film. The graphic images and violence are so important in telling our nation’s history. The humor is much needed and well placed throughout the film, adding relief and closeness to the characters. And each actor gives it their all in their roles.

Welcome to the fall dramas. See Lee Daniels’ “The Butler,” which I happily give four out of four stars, and an Oscar nod. Oh yeah, this movie is definitely getting some kind of Oscar.