From the cotton fields to the Oval Office over the course of decades, one man serves as a butler in the White House while the country moves from segregation to a black president. But because they are condensing so much, it plays like a slightly more sentimental news reel, with occasional pauses for personal drama. It's very much a studio picture. A lot of well-known names in every level of role, a story that is powerful but inoffensive at the same time, something that most people can safely agree to going to see. Engaging, but unchallenging.
I couldn't help but think of a beloved professor from Sarah Lawrence and what he would have to say about it all. And when the movie culminates in Obama's election (um, spoiler?), the collegiate nostalgia came back again as I remembered how we watched the votes come in under a huge tent on the lawn while wearing plastic patriotic bowler hats.
The most successful scenes for me were when they took the time to show ordinary moments between the characters. Conversations around a poker game or the breakfast and dinner table rang truer than many of the montage sequences that moved us from administration to administration. The history is covered in Hollywood gloss, and the family's issues don't have a chance to develop beyond the broadest of brushstrokes. Trying to do two things at once means that neither really succeeds as well as it could have.
After two hours and twelve minutes, the most interesting thing to discuss about the movie was each of the actor-president match ups. And there were some good ones. Alan Rickman as Reagan? Would never have occurred to me, but he absolutely has that face. Jane Fonda as Nancy was pretty spot on as well. Something about John Cusack's Nixon wasn't quite right, though. He exudes this innate sense of self-deprecation that is very un-Nixon. I wish Lady Bird Johnson had made an appearance, I owe her a debt of gratitude for the wildflowers that grow along the highways every spring.
All in all, a perfectly good excuse to enjoy some garlic hummus and veggies at the Alamo, but I wish 'Don Jon' had already been out.
There's more movie madness this Monday at Amaryllis Musings.