Winfrey may be the finest of all. You'd think she might turn Gloria into a snoozy role model. Gloria is flawed (she drinks), but Winfrey knows when to go for laughs, too—she takes the role seriously without making it self-serious. One of Gloria's big dreams is to visit the White House, but she has to wait a long time for it to happen. (Mrs. Reagan—played, like a tiny powerhouse, by Jane Fonda—is the first First Lady to extend the invitation.) That's part of the reason Gloria resents her husband's dedication to his job, and to his presidents, particularly the kindly, anxiety-ridden JFK.

One night, after she and Cecil have been arguing, Gloria rouses herself from bed—she's just a little bit sozzled—and goes over to her vanity mirror, where she applies a coat of lipstick as meticulously as only a truly angry woman can. She taunts her husband: "I bet you wish I spoke French, just like Jack-ay." There's bitterness in that moment, but Winfrey also makes it funny. This is the opposite of great-lady acting—it's something much better, more vibrant and alive, and whatever The Butler's flaws may be, Winfrey's off-the-cuff fortitude is emblematic of its spirit. Daniels has made a proper movie, with all the conventionality that implies, yet it's progressive in its heart. Sometimes the best way to fight the power is to bend it to your will.


The Butler
Directed by Lee Daniels
The Weinstein Company
Opens August 16

Subscribe to the Voice Film Club podcast

« Previous Page

Now Showing

Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

Box Office Report

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!