The Help Directed by: Tate Taylor Cast: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard Running Time: 2 hrs 15 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: August 10, 2011
PLOT: Based on Kathryn Stockett's book, the story of one woman (Stone) looking into the ways that white people mistreat their black housekeepers in the segregated South in the 1960s.
WHO'S IT FOR? Minorities should flock to this story. It's an angle of racism I haven't seen. Also, there's a good amount of humor to keep the masses entertained.
EXPECTATIONS: Another story about a persecuted group? I was worried ordinary would be the main feeling I'd have with this film.
Emma Stone as Eugenia 'Skeeter' Phelan: Yeah, it's her summer, and I'm not getting sick of it at all. Skeeter is the one white girl who doesn't see race. Actually, she sometimes sees it clearer than anyone else. Stone portrays a wannabe journalist looking for a story with the gusto we hope. Sometimes she's on the verge of being a little too ahead of her time. Luckily they throw in some naivety with her ideals and some desperation in finding a man. Plus, Stone has the odd charm to play the ugly duckling and make you believe it. Score: 7
Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark: She takes, and takes, and takes. You want her to fight, but understand every single hesitation she has. Aibileen doesn't just want to do the right thing, she feels she needs to. She works in a house where she is the mother to almost everyone. Her relationship with the little girl is especially powerful. Davis holds the emotional weight of the movie on her shoulders and does an absolutely fine job with it. Score: 7
Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson: I knew I recognized her. It ended up being from Dinner for Schmucks. She was the one-joke pet psychic who didn't make me laugh. Minny has all but erased that role. If Davis is carrying the emotional weight and keeps her emotions on the inside, then Spencer is the one wearing it on the outside and fighting. Here, you've got to love the fighter. She's bug-eyed and beautiful with her rage. The "terrible awful" is hilarious and she pulls off all aspects of this side story with perfection. No, I won't be telling you what the "terrible awful" actually is. Score: 9
Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly Holbrook: Howard may have found herself a niche as the ice queen. She's able to counter Minny's bug-eyes with a death stare that puts almost everyone in their place. One of the characters points out how much work it must be for Hilly to carry around so much hate, but Howard makes it look easy. She's better at this than anything else I've seen from her as a damsel (The Village, Lady in the Water). Maybe that's just a M. Night Shyamalan problem though. Score: 8
Jessica Chastain as Celia Foote: If Spencer is our black comic relief, than Chastain is our white. Hey, it's a movie about race, and it's most definitely a compliment to both. When Chastain finally gets screen time the whole movie and all of the other characters come to life. Celia is a woman who simply wants to be loved/liked and Chastain pulls it off. Score: 9
Rest of Cast: If you can't get Patricia Clarkson to be the mother, then maybe Allison Janney is the second best thing. She plays Skeeter's mother. Even when she is disappointing her daughter and the audience, she's nailing the emotional moment. Chris Lowell gets lost in the shuffle as Skeeter's potential love interest. Sissy Spacek knocks it out of the park as Hilly's mother. The one person I definitely needed more of was Leslie Jordan as the newspaper's editor Mr. Blacky. Sure, he gets a moment to dance a jig, but I could have used 20 more. Score: 8
TALKING: "Terrible awful" could actually become a catchphrase (though hopefully it will refer to something other than what happens in the movie). In the beginning, it's a little heavy-handed, but thankfully that shifts away and they show more than they tell about the racism. When the housekeepers do explain their stories, it doesn't feel like a rant and it's not all negative. That's two really nice surprises in my book. Score: 8
SIGHTS: I hate humidity and they do a good job of making you feel it without feeling it. You feel me? The look is nailed, which simply means they put the time and money into making this look like a proper period piece. Score: 7
SOUNDS: "The Living Proof" doesn't hit me, but I've never been a big Mary J. Blige fan. It strikes me as too obvious. The rest of the soundtrack consists of oldies that haven't been heard too often. Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" is one of my all time favorites. Ray Charles, The Orlons, and Chubby Checker also gets some songs in. Score: 6
BEST SCENE: It has to be the first telling of the "terrible awful." No, I won't tell you exactly what that is all about. Close behind that scene is Minny's first encounter with Celia's husband and the eventual dinner.
ENDING: It's not perfect and happy and carefree, but it does everything I would want.
QUESTIONS: Why the slow, basic, ordinary start? Why wait on giving us the humor? Why have Skeeter's slight romance in there at all?
REWATCHABILITY: Yes, especially because there could be some actresses up for awards with this movie.
Racism in the '60s. We've heard it all before. Oops. Nope. We haven't. Just like the stories of soldiers during WWII, racist injustices might be an inexhaustible subject in the right hands. Director Tate Taylor's are definitely the right hands.
The first third of the movie feels ordinary. It shows black women are victims, white women are evil and Emma Stone plays our white crusader, out to make a difference. We've been there before. Yes, the first third is ordinary, but after that it becomes extraordinary. They find the perfect balance of showing you what black housekeepers had to go through in the South in the '60s. Many households demanded a separate bathroom be used because they believed they could catch diseases from their help. The Help finds this balance with comedy. When things are awful, comedy can help the people through and in this case help the audience.
If you can't make a complete movie, I always prefer a strong ending more than a great start. The Help starts slow, but with 2 hours and 15 minutes, it has time to make up for that. It gives us another important perspective of American history, plenty of humor and heart, and characters we can truly care about.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10