If you are looking for a stunningly acted film that affects you in myriad ways and gets you thinking and cheering, but has a rather lackluster script, The Help is that movie. I adored this movie. Also, it only worked because the actors in it did a simply marvelous job.
Here’s a preview:
Released on August 10, 2011
Written by Tate Taylor with the novel by Kathryn Stockett
Directed by Tate Taylor
Starring Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain, Ahna O’Reilly, and Allison Janney
* * * * *
I have to start this review by saying I love Allison Janney. She was such a delight in Mr. Sunshine, the very underappreciated Matthew Perry TV show. I am still sad that the show didn’t get more of a shot.
Also, Emma Stone. Need I say anything more?
The Help follows a young woman named Skeeter (Stone) who arrives back in her hometown having graduated from college and being full of journalistic and novelistic hopes and dreams. She lands a job at the local paper continuing a popular cleaning advice column. The problem is that she has no idea how to clean, having grown up in a house where a black maid did pretty much all of the work.
So Skeeter decides to turn to the maid of her best friend. Her best friend’s name is Hilly, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, and Hilly is not very nice. She is one of the many who sees the black ‘help’ as less than human and entitled to nothing. Hilly’s maid is named Aibileen and is played by Viola Davis. Aibileen is, in fact, the narrator of this story.
Aibileen is happy to help Skeeter with the column, but before long, the project gains a new focus. Skeeter decides she wants to write a book from the perspective of the heretofore invisible ‘help’ wherein their story is told and people learn what it means to be a black person in the culture of the day.
Aibileen is not on board with this new project. She knows that if she starts speaking out, she and her loved ones will be targeted, beat up, and possibly killed.
Obviously, things happen that make the new project take off. But the point is that this movie tells a very heartfelt story that we are all familiar with, but puts such a lovely face on that story and is so beautifully told by the actors that it moves you and keeps you glued to the faces of these fine people.
The first major problem with The Help is that once again, whitey helped the black people overcome. The film glosses over some pretty profound issues, but does throw a few good punches.
Now for acting. Emma Stone radiates intelligence, naivete, pureness of intent, and compassion. She is just perfect in her part.
Viola Davis is the solid, emotional rock of this film and she draws the viewer into Aibileen’s soul. She deserves an Oscar today.
Octavia Spencer plays Minny, Aibileen’s best friend. She gets some of the funniest and triumphant moments, but she isn’t a comical character– she is a person with a personality, family, fear, courage, and a great deal of soul. You love her and want the best for her. Octavia Spencer deserves an Oscar today too.
Jessica Chastain. Gosh. Her character is a cliche written upon a convenient trope. But Chastain knocks trope and cliche out and fills the screen with her presence and power. I loved Celia and felt like her character was motivated wonderfully– despite the failings of the story itself.
Bryce Dallas Howard played Hilly, the chief antagonist. She nailed it. She understood Hilly– her fear, spine, inadequacies, anger at the world– so well. I think Bryce has a continued great future.
Allison Janney oh how I love you. You are lovely and smart and you took the character of Skeeter’s mom past the easy stasis that she obviously embodied in the script and filled her out into a real human being.
But the writing? The movie is full of cliche. Full of trope. Full of convenience. Full of total predictability. However, it is satisfying, complete and very compelling. All because of these actors. They deserve every kudo we can give them. And it’s a story by a woman, about women, and filled with women. Men don’t bail anybody out. I appreciate that.
This is an unusual review, but The Help is an unusual film. Such a simplistic and potentially bad script, but the acting. Oh the acting. These ladies put on a clinic.
Content warnings: Only a little harsh language.
Writing: 3 Acting: 5 Overall: 4.5
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