The Help (2011)
Director: Tate Taylor
Writers: Tate Taylor, Kathryn Stockett
Cast: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ahna O' Reilly, Allison Janney, Anna Camp, Mike Vogel, Sissy Spacek
Synopsis: Set in Mississippi during the 1960s, Skeeter (Stone) is a southern society girl who returns from college determined to become a writer, but turns her friends' lives -- and a Mississippi town -- upside down when she decides to interview the black women who have spent their lives taking care of prominent southern families. Aibileen (Davis), Skeeter's best friend's housekeeper, is the first to open up -- to the dismay of her friends in the tight-knit black community. Despite Skeeter's life-long friendships hanging in the balance, she and Aibileen continue their collaboration and soon more women come forward to tell their stories -- and as it turns out, they have a lot to say. Along the way, unlikely friendships are forged and a new sisterhood emerges, but not before everyone in town has a thing or two to say themselves when they become unwittingly -- and unwillingly -- caught up in the changing times.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic material
A gripping story of women trying to defy against the social norms of society during the 1960's
Throughout the years, we've seen a lot of movies touch on the concept of racism. In Hollywood's earlier years, there were such films like "Birth of a Nation" that preached more of a pro-racist message to it's audience. And as time went one, we soon got films that preached more along the lines of anti-racist message like "Remember the Titans." Heck, there's even been movies where the racial roles were reversed in such films like "White Man's Burden." Anyway, the main point I'm making here is that we've seen a lot of films that have explored the concepts of racism from almost every feasible angle; thus this makes me ask the question....what is there left to explore?
Yes, racism is bad, and I'm sure any sane decent person out there would agree to that. However, in terms of films, there's really not that much you can explore these days that hasn't been covered already. Needless to say, I was highly skeptical about "The Help" before seeing it. Not because I feared it wouldn't be any good, but it was mostly because I felt there wouldn't be anything this film preaches to me that hasn't been explored before; hence my dilemma.
On the one hand, this film really isn't that much different from most anti-racist films that preach equality and such. Don't get me wrong, it's a great message to preach, but it's been done to death so many times in Hollywood. But on the other hand, does that mean "The Help" is a bad movie? Certainly not. Sure, "The Help" won't win any accolades for originality, but it's definitely a fun and entertaining film to watch. Not only are all the characters deeply engaging, and charming in their own unique way, but the story itself resonates it's own unique charm to entrap it's audience. Granted, the film is nothing if not insanely predictable, at times, but it's actually rather fun to watch.
The humor that Tate Taylor implements into this drama is very well done, as I'm a bit surprised this film wasn't listed as a dramatic comedy on imdb. In fact, there's this one running joke that's played throughout the film involving a pie. I won't say what the exact details of this running gag were, but it's definitely one of the highlights of the film.
Anyway, as for the rest of the film, we'll get into that momentarily once we go over the story first. The film is based off the popular novel of the same name, which is written by Kathryn Stockett. Set in a 1960's suburban neighborhood that's located in a small town within the Mississippi. A young college girl named Skeeter (Emma Stone) comes home to see her family, and tries to start a new career as a writer. Being that we're in the sixties here, all the women around her aren't too shy to pressure her into meeting some guy to marry instead. Although in today's era, it's not uncommon for any girl to be career driven; versus merely being out to find some man to take care of her. However, back in the sixties within the deep south, it was kind of frowned upon, as the idea was that women were meant to be devoted housewives and child bearers, while the men were the sole bread winners.
I do apologize if this comes off as sexist, as that's not my intention. Anyone, who knows me best will know that I happen to have the highest respect for women in general. In fact, I tend to think women are the smarter ones between the sexes. Anyway, I merely wanted to point that out to those who may not be as familiar with U.S. history, and how society was back then in this regard. To get back to the story, Skeeter yearns to become a professional writer someday, and somehow lucks out by getting a magazine publisher to buy some of her work.
The articles she's asked to write are mainly housekeeping tips for families. However, due to a series of events, she eventually decides to write a book chronicling the many stories of black women, who are housekeepers working for white southern families. Although many of them are reluctant for obvious reasons, Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) inevitably volunteers to help Skeeter with her book.
It's from here, the audience learns about some of the injustices that many of these women had to endure during their servitude to white families, as friendships are forged, and realizations are made. Although the story is a bit predictable and cliched, it's still fairly well told, as the characterization in this movie is well thought out for the main protagonists.
Bryce Dallas Howard (Hilly Holbrook) does an excellent job playing the stuck up southern bell, who sees minorities as nothing more than cheap labor with little regards to them as people in general. Granted, her character is a bit one dimensional in a sense that she's merely portrayed as nothing more than a whiny pompous brat, but for the type of movie that "The Help" tries to be, it actually works rather well in it's favor. Making it all that much sweeter that she ends up being the victim of the running pie joke, in this movie.
Octavia Spencer is a real spark plug playing Minny Jackson, as she not only brings a sharp wit in this movie, but her personality almost steals the show from Viola Davis and Emma Stone a few times in this film. In various scenes, she's not too shy to tell it like it is when Skeeter asks her about her experiences, as she certainly has a lot to say. I can certainly see why she was nominated for a "Best Supporting Actress", as she clearly deserved it, but will her performance be good enough to win? I guess we'll have to wait to find out.
As for her other nominated co-star, Jessica Chastain (Celia Foote), she's very prominent in her role as well. At first, she comes off as a bit absent minded throughout most of the movie, but as we get to know more about her character, we soon learn she's a rather complex and deep person. Sure, she may not come out being the most socially accepted girl in this film, but she certainly shows that she has arguably one of the biggest hearts out there. In fact, next to Octavia, Chastain almost stole the show too, as I wouldn't have minded if the movie was solely based on Minny and Celia. After all, they both had a lot of great on screen chemistry together that resonated well with it's perspective audience.
As for Viola Davis, she seemed rather prominent in her role as well. Although she does tend to be out shined a bit by her co stars at times, but whenever the film shifts to focusing solely on her character, she definitely carries the film quite well. I especially liked the inner monologue moments, as it helped depict the internal struggle of the character herself; thus adding a new layer of emotional depth that wasn't quite there before. For example, when she goes over the loss of her son, she narrates the exact thoughts of what she's thinking, as it allows the audience to deeply connect to her on an emotional level.
As for Emma Stone, I thought she was rather potent in her role as well. Although, there were times that her character came off as more of an after thought, but I'd by lying if I said that I felt the Academy didn't snub her for an Oscar nomination. No, she could have easily have gotten nominated for her role as well, as her character provided a deep introspective look into the relationship a white person could have being raised by a black housekeeper, during those days. Not only does her character provide deep character driven moments, but some of the most touching moments in this movie involve her character.
As I said earlier, this film won't win any points for originality, but it's definitely well told. In the end, I'd have to give this movie a three out of four.