The Help – Review
Film: The Help (2011)
Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard, Allison Janney
Directed by: Tate Taylor
Produced by: Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan, Brunson Green
Written by: Tate Taylor (adapted from the eponymous novel by Kathryn Stockett)
Music by: Thomas Newman
Running Time: 146 minutes
While I was initially reluctant to see The Help because it came across as a sappy tale about breaking the boundaries of racism, its abundant amount of acclaim — particularly for the performances of its cast members — made me cave in and see it a week shy of the Oscars.
At nearly two and a half hours, I was concerned that the film would be slow, but it was always at least somewhat enjoyable and watchable, and the acting was indeed outstanding. Given this latter aspect, I was disappointed that some of these actresses were not given less generic characters with which to work.
The Help is based on Kathryn Stockett’s novel of the same name. Taking place during the 1960s civil rights era, it tells the story of how Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone, who has been everywhere lately), an aspiring journalist and recent college graduate, returns to her hometown of Jackson, Mississippi, and — after seeing her friends and acquaintances mistreat their African-American maids — soon becomes inspired to talk to these maids (known as “the help”) in the neighborhood so that she can write a book with accounts from their side. The main two people Eugenia talks to are Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis, who scored a Best Actress nomination) and Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer, who is up for Best Supporting Actress). They are at first reluctant to talk to Eugenia, as they fear the social and legal ramifications that could arise from their participation. Of course, they eventually decide to join what they see as a just cause.
Davis and Spencer are outstanding and deserve much of the acclaim they have been getting. Davis portrays Aibileen as a caring yet quietly sad woman who has been hurt by years of less-than-stellar (to put it kindly) treatment and terrible misfortune (specifically, the tragic death of her son). As the occasional narrator of the film, her character is a critical figure that makes the film go. Spencer, meanwhile, brings more comedic flair to the film with her quick wit and daring actions (those who have seen the film will know what I’m talking about).
That being said, The Help unfortunately exploited archetypes and stock characters to a fair degree. Eugenia is the stereotypical young protagonist who is completely moralistic and has no discernible flaws. She walks the path of good without ever straying, making the story not only predictable, but less dramatic and compelling. Then there’s Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), the prototypical 1960s southern
bitch racist who is completely incapable of feeling empathy or sympathy for anyone, especially non-whites. Howard effectively portrays a thoroughly odious character, but Holbrook was just too one-dimensional.
This is not to say thatThe Helpwas completely devoid of interesting characters. As was discussed, Davis and Spencer gave terrific performances and were provided with more intriguing characters. In addition, Jessica Chastain (who is also up for Best Supporting Actress, and, like Stone, has been all over the map recently) turned in a fine performance as Celia Foote, somewhat of an outcast among the high-class women in Jackson, but — though very quirky and off-beat — one of the few with a good heart.
The Help is ultimately a decent film but could have been more challenging in its anti-racism agenda. It wasn’t hard-hitting or emotional enough to leave a lasting impression, and as a result, it becomes just another movie about moving past racial boundaries. Thankfully, it wasn’t completely sappy like I feared it might have been, but it certainly could have been more compelling. Also, while it was never too slow or boring, it would have been more effective if not for an ending that could have occurred 20-30 minutes earlier. That being said, the performances of Davis, Spencer, and Chastain carry the film and make it watchable enough.
Tommy D’s Score:
2.75/4 Tommy Ds
Posted on February 20, 2012, in Reviews and tagged Allison Janney, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Bryce Dallas Howard, Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain, movies, Octavia Spencer, Oscars, Tate Taylor, The Help, Thomas Newman, Viola Davis. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.