Friday, May 10, 2013

Butlers and Family Squabbling in Ensemble Trailers

Two of the larger ensembles of the upcoming awards season are Lee Daniels' The Butler and John Wells' adaptation of the famed Broadway play August: Osage County. If combined, the cast lists would look as if they've snagged half of Hollywood and in the last few days they have each released trailers that let us get a good glimpse at most of them. The Butler has even more people than mentioned in the cast rundown (Alex Pettyfer who's seen in the cotton fields; Mariah Carey who's nowhere in sight yet plays somebody called "Hattie Pearl" oh lord), but the trailer for August appears to let everyone get a moment except for poor ol' Misty Upham who, as one of the few young native American actors who's had attention-grabbing roles - Frozen River, mostly - was a natural for the role of the Westen family housekeeper. She's nowhere to be seen in the trailer, which is disappointing given that, from what I remember, she's quite central. Or maybe that's where director Wells has diminished the gargantuan plan for the big screen? We'll soon see.

As for The Butler, a lot of people are calling this "Oscar bait" while others are calling it "terrible". Sounds about right for a Lee Daniels film of this type. I know it does look far more subdued than his past films, but I'm not entirely sure that Daniels is a director who's able to entirely push aside his personality even if he is on record as saying this is a more-or-less "director for hire" gig. I mean, this is a guy who made a movie that had Helen Hirren and Cuba Gooding Jr as assassin lovers, followed that up with an Oscar-winning drama starring Mo'Nique and Mariah Carey, and then followed that up with The Paperboy in which he convinced Nicole Kidman to urinate on Zac Efron and to give John Cusack a telepathic blowjob. If anything, it looks like he's dolled Oprah Winfrey up in a series of sweaty period-centric clothes and blown-out wigs and for that we should be all incredibly thankful. I have some awful American chat show on in the background as I type this fronted by somebody called Wendy Williams and they just played a truncated version of the trailer with all of Oprah's bits and, basically, that's all we're lilkely ever going to need.

Firstly, I'm surprised at how young they've been able to make Forrest Whitaker look in those early parts. He's a man who didn't even look young when he was young (remember him in The Crying Game?) so well done with that. And it does look stirring and well-acted from the central two (Whitaker and Winfrey, slaying all with a gif-ready performance right there) and there's certain kitsch value in watching all these famous actors portray famous American presidents and their wives. I personally cannot wait to see Jane Fonda's drag realness as Nancy Reagan.

August: Osage County seems like a more obvious choice for Oscar gold, although I've been repeatedly nervous about the adaptation. The stage version was so excellent, and the tone of this new trailer seems somewhat... off. A bit more uplifting than I remember the stage play being,

Still, the chance to see all of those fantastic actors - Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Ewan McGregor and others - is one that should ultimately prove irresistible and the source material is so good that surely some of it has to have transferred. Especially since it's been adapted by the play's original writer, Tracey Letts, who certainly made his plays Bug and Killer Joe into... unique experiences. We'll see.

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