Lee Daniels’ “The Butler” is coming. And if you don’t think this is Oscar material, you are sorely mistaken. Last week in New York there were two very private advance screenings of an early cut of this all -star film– and I do mean all star– Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey head a cast that everyone would die for. The movie is said to be the “black Forrest Gump.”
The screenings: one for a focus group, mostly African American, recruited from “the street” as it were. “They loved it,” says a source who was there. “The cards were all Very goods with some Excellents.”
Second screening for Daniels and Harvey Weinstein close pals. I heard that Julian Schnabel was there, and many other Weinstein intimates. Again, through the roof, although Vogue’s Andre Leon Talley “gave some notes,” as did others. Still, Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan as “magnificent,” they said.
You know the story here? “The Butler” is based on the story of Eugene Allen, who served eight US presidents from 1952 to 1986. He’s played by Oscar winner Forest Whitaker. It’s his story and it features all those presidents and their wives– from Eisenhower to Reagan. Danny Strong wrote the screenplay. The Allens have been renaimed “Gaines.” Oprah is Mrs. Gaines. Robin Williams is Eisenhower. James Marsden is JFK. Liev Schreiber is LBJ. John Cusack is Nixon.
Not only that: there are like 25 producers including Warner Music owner and Russian billionaire Len Blavatnik. The Weinstein Company is pulling out all the stops on this one. We’ll see some kind of clip or clips in Cannes. But trust me, one look at that trailer and you know it worked out. Danny Strong told me the other day that the cut at those two screenings has been refined. “It’s even better since then,” he said.
The people I spoke to raved about Whitaker, Oprah, Fonda, everyone. These people are going to clog up the supporting actor categories, I was warned.
Bookmark this column. Remember it in the fall. “The Butler” is about to serve us big time. Harvey Weinstein is going all the way with this one. We are well beyond the days of “sex lies and videotape” and even “The Artist.” This is that big time epic sentimental sweeping film that everyone will want to see.