The winds are changing. The plentiful foliage of spring gave way to the explosions and bloat of blockbuster season, which are now giving up the floor to Oscar season. Starting with the Toronto International Film Festival and going through NY/LA Christmas day openings, Hollywood is unleashing their awards hopefuls. So right now we’re in the preseason, where everyone’s excited for everything, and no hopes have been dashed.
As we go through the final weeks of summer releases, there is one movie in the mix to act as a preseason game to tune up for the marathon to come. Lee Daniels’ The Butler arrives in theaters Friday and has all the pedigree of a future Best Picture winner.
As a case study, let’s dig into Daniels’ The Butler to see how it follows the Oscarbait formula and whether we think it will ultimately be rewarded with a gold statue.
Plot: We follow a White House butler’s tenure. Oh, and the butler is a black man. Certainly an interesting perspective to investigate, this has strains of the recently Oscar®-feted The Help. Look for white guilt and faux-progressives to latch on to the story’s “importance.” Given the PG-13 rating, I tend to think Daniels’ wilder proclivities will be reined in, which will help the movie’s prospects. If the material isn’t handled properly, things could get ugly.
Talent Involved: Behind the camera (writer/producer Danny Strong, director/producer Lee Daniels, actress/producer Oprah Winfrey) and in front of it (Oscar® winners Forest Whitaker, Robin Williams, Cuba Gooding Jr., Vanessa Redgrave, and nominee Terrence Howard), The Butler has certainly been there before. But there it is possible to have too much of a good thing, as Nine, The Shipping News, J. Edgar, The Lovely Bones, and All the President’s Men (remake) found out.
Producers: IMDB currently lists 39 people with some sort of producing credit. Without knowing the level of involvement from all 39 producers, it’s hard to get a bead on this one. But that many cooks can’t possibly come up with something very strong. Most award contenders have a much more reasonable number (The King’s Speech had three), but there’s nothing really concrete to glean from this other than 39 is a bad look. I know it takes a village to raise a child, but how well can that kid turn out when everyone is trying to teach it something different?
Final Prognosis: Negative. The main reason for optimism is that the Best Picture field can have up to 10 nominees. If five was still the norm, I’d say there’s no chance for Lee Daniels’ The Butler (how much will people hate writing/reading that name?). The August release date worked for The Help, but this one doesn’t have the broad appeal to make it a hit.