The Help Directed by: Tate Taylor Cast: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Allison Janney Running Time: 2 hr 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?: Fans of the book will probably enjoy it, and newcomers to the story might warm up to it, so long as they don't feel like the white/black politics are skewed by its storytelling.
The praiseworthy performances of The Help make potentially unmemorable characters memorable, (a la something like Emily Blunt’s performance in The Devil Wears Prada.") Viola Davis gives a tearful performance as the wise lady at the center of the events, and reminds us that she still has full control of her tear ducts like in her in Oscar-nominated performance of Doubt whether it truly affects the audience or not. Not completely worn down by the story, her character also gives the audience some moments where her laughter is contagious, rounding out Aibileen fairly well. She also takes the part of being the movie’s narrator, giving her the first and last words of the story. This can make her character very vulnerable to cheesy moments.
Emma Stone, hot off of spunky performances like in Crazy, Stupid, Love.adds another title to her consistent streak of charismatic appearance as the naïve Skeeter, a good-hearted young girl who has a lot of growing up to do in the wide subjects of love and life. Like Davis’ laugh, Stone’s interest in her subject of the “the help” can be fairly involving to audience members. She’s an acceptable surrogate for the audience as she dives into understanding and destroying the unjust customs of her surroundings.
On the other side of the niceness scale is a sharp performance by Bryce Dallas Howard, who proves to be a truly dislikable bad gal, and one that we root for vengeance against (for the most part, until we actually see what her “punishment” is). Howard is fairly great in this catty role that takes the “Stepford Wife-like” characteristics of the privileged women during this period and shows every ugly attribute.
In the end, however, it is Jessica Chastain who has the most compelling part in The Help and it's one surprising in both its character and performance. Looking extremely unrecognizable from her wholesome maternal role in the recent The Tree of Life Chastain’s character is a very curious and spunky challenge to all of the rules that characters like Hilly feel have been written in stone. Celia’s ignorance affects her in ways that are both comical and also very serious – both sides of which Chastain is able to play with exceptional grace.
Clocking in a near two-and-a-half hour running time, The Help can feel as long as it might take to read the actual book, or even have it read to you by Andy Kaufman like when he did “The Great Gatsby.” It doesn’t feel like as neat an adaptation as it probably could be, with a few moments seeming to stretch beyond their necessary running time. This feels almost longer than Transformers: Dark of the Moon and that movie is shorter than “The Help” by fifteen minutes or so. All without answering why the white women in the movie love the actual book as tres chic, even though they’re the ones who are complacent with such inequalities, etc. Though on that note, this is thankfully a step up from The Blind Side
On top of this beefy running time, The Help spoils a lot of its charm with a strange immaturity, which can only be chalked up as ultimate poor taste. While toilets are a recurring theme and a center issue with its characters, the story goes overboard with its center joke, which can only be defined as torture, and extremely inhumane. The Help might try to say that such an act is just because of the mistreatment that happened to people like Minnie, but the story loses this argument when this particular center gag is more like something from The Human Centipede than a piece from clever literature. The act is not inventive, and no matter how often it reoccurs in the story or attempts to be lightened by numerous winking references, it is a pointlessly humiliating act to any human being.
Sometimes dragged out or exhibiting a sick sense of humor, The Help can be a long-winded reminder for equality with a lack of a piercing focus. It is the inspired performances from Davis, Stone, Howard and especially Chastain that give The Help the boost it needs for its story to be sincerely told.
FINAL SCORE: 6/10