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Review: The Help

The Help
4 years agoby:
6 10

PLOT: When Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone), a young Mississippi society gal, returns home after completing her degree, she notices, for the first time in her life, the racism and civil inequality that dominate her circa-1960’s Jackson, Mississippi hometown. She decides to write a book telling the stories of the town’s black maids, all of whom have been forced to leave their own families to work for menial wages in white homes, and raise their employer’s children, while being considered no more than servants by their racist employers. At first, only Aibileen (Viola Davis) a middle-aged widower who recently lost her only son, and the sharp-tongued Minny (Octavia Spencer) have the courage to sit down with Skeeter, and tell their stories.

REVIEW: THE HELP could be called “civil rights-lite”. Essentially, it’s the family-friendly, Walt Disney (well, Touchtone actually) version of what went on in places like Jackson, Mississippi during the turbulent sixties civil-rights era.


As such, THE HELP is an entertaining enough film, although it’s elevated by a trio of strong performances by the actresses playing maids. I imagine at the Oscars this year, Viola Davis is all but guaranteed an Oscar nom (the question being rather or not they’ll put her up for lead or supporting- this is a lead) as Aibileen, the middle-aged maid whose anger over the loss of her own son, while being forced to raise her indifferent employers kids- but still not even being able to use their bathroom, spurs her to give Skeeter the material she needs for her book. Davis is magnificent, right from the first scene where she dons a coiffed wig (her employers are offended by her un-straightened hair), and dotes of her cold employer’s ignored child. This is a great part for Davis, and she brings real warmth to the role.


Octavia Spencer is another stand-out as the sassy Minnie, who, in the film’s most memorable scene, fools her ignorant, racist employer (a thoroughly unpleasant Bryce-Dallas Howard) into literally eating shit. Apparently, Kathyrn Stockett, who wrote the book this is based on, patterned Minnie after Spencer, and it shows. If Spencer doesn’t get a supporting actress nod I’ll be shocked.

The third, award-worthy performance has to be Cicely Tyson, in a tiny, but heartbreaking part as Skeeter’s childhood maid, who mysteriously vanished after a falling out with Skeeter’s shrill, domineering mother (played, somewhat cartoonishly, by Allison Janney). It’s a tiny role, but damn if Tyson doesn’t own the film whenever she’s on-screen.

Meanwhile, THE HELP is being sold as an Emma Stone star-vehicle, and while Stone is terrific as always, who really cares about a wealthy, white southern belle, whose biggest hurdle to overcome is being taken seriously as a writer and finding love? There are higher stakes at play here for the maids, and it’s their stories that make THE HELP worth watching, while Skeeter’s own is as predictable as can be, and drags out the considerable 140 minute running time somewhat.


I’d say the performances by Davis, Tyson, and Spencer are what make THE HELP a really worthwhile film, as without them, I doubt I’d be giving this a recommendation. There have been many better films made about this era (with MISSISSIPPI BURNING being my top pick), but as far as a Disney-fied, PG version of the civil rights struggle goes, THE HELP isn’t bad.

Source: JoBlo.com

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2:13AM on 08/12/2011
I disagree about Emma Stone's character. I found her plight to be very compelling. And I think you are writing it off. In most ways, Viola Davis is the heart of the movie, but Emma Stone is wonderful too. She's heartbroken to hear about her maid being fired because she more of a mother to her than her real mother. And she writes the story because she is suppose to write about something that disturbs her that doesn't disturb anybody. She risks alienating her family and everyone in town.
I disagree about Emma Stone's character. I found her plight to be very compelling. And I think you are writing it off. In most ways, Viola Davis is the heart of the movie, but Emma Stone is wonderful too. She's heartbroken to hear about her maid being fired because she more of a mother to her than her real mother. And she writes the story because she is suppose to write about something that disturbs her that doesn't disturb anybody. She risks alienating her family and everyone in town. Now, sure, she doesn't have as much to loose as the maids. I would certainly not argue for that. But I think it's unfair to say that she only has to worry about being taken seriously as a writer and finding love. There is a lot to more it. This is a wonderful film. Beautifully made and strongly acted. This movie is full to the brim of great performances. Everyone from Stone and Davis to Octavia Spencer to Jessica Chastain, both very funny, warmly endearing and also heartbreaking, sometimes all at the same time. She's even better here than she is Tree of Life IMO. I did not find Allison Janney to be cartoonish. I think there is actually real depth to her character as we see despite firing her maid, she did actually feel sorry about it and is wracked with guilt (even though she tries to hide it when she says it's not her fault). Now, Bryce Dallas Howard's character is a bit one dimensional for the most part, but she plays the part extremely well and she does show some hidden pain and unexpected sadness in one of the movie's last scenes. It's a great scene. This is a warm, wonderful movie. Full of pain and sadness but is also hopeful and triumphant. I loved it. One of the best movies of the year so far. Could and should very well end up being a major player come oscar time.
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11:16PM on 08/11/2011
I really like Viola Davis, I am going to see this just for her. Emma Stone is another thing. And a friend will drag me to it anyway.
I really like Viola Davis, I am going to see this just for her. Emma Stone is another thing. And a friend will drag me to it anyway.
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6:01PM on 08/11/2011
Great review, but wouldn't a Disney version have the black people as "Magical Negroes" who help Emma Stone find her dreams in a stereotypical, laughable manner?
Great review, but wouldn't a Disney version have the black people as "Magical Negroes" who help Emma Stone find her dreams in a stereotypical, laughable manner?
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6:47PM on 08/11/2011
That's actually pretty much what happens. All due respect to C-Bum, but it's my least favorite movie of the year so far. I'd almost call it offensive, but it's way too vanilla to go that far.
That's actually pretty much what happens. All due respect to C-Bum, but it's my least favorite movie of the year so far. I'd almost call it offensive, but it's way too vanilla to go that far.
4:02PM on 08/11/2011

Kathyrn Stockett wrote the book

Tate Taylor adapted it and directed after Chris Columbus dropped out of the director's chair.
Tate Taylor adapted it and directed after Chris Columbus dropped out of the director's chair.
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4:14PM on 08/11/2011
Merci!
Merci!
+1
2:58PM on 08/11/2011
Wow. That is a very different review from the one I wrote. I read the book, and still loved the movie. I would encourage everyone to see this. My only glaring dislike were the wigs on Emma Stone.
Wow. That is a very different review from the one I wrote. I read the book, and still loved the movie. I would encourage everyone to see this. My only glaring dislike were the wigs on Emma Stone.
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4:15PM on 08/11/2011
Yeah- it's not a bad movie. For me a 6 is still a reccomendation, but I dunno.
Yeah- it's not a bad movie. For me a 6 is still a reccomendation, but I dunno.
2:58PM on 08/11/2011

Sigh...

You lost me @ the semicolon after PLOT
You lost me @ the semicolon after PLOT
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6:02PM on 08/11/2011
That's a colon.
This ; is a semicolon.
That's a colon.
This ; is a semicolon.
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