Sunday, October 2, 2011

"You is kind. You is smart. You is important."

Film: The Help
Year: 2011
Writer/Director: Tate Taylor
Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain, Ahna O'Reilly, Anna Camp, Sissy Spacek, Allison Janney, Mike Vogel, Chris Lowell, Mary Steenburgen.
Running time: 146 min.

I am a terrible person. The first thing you should know about me is that I am a terrible reader. I just never have enough time to dedicate to a book. On the odd occasion that I do end up reading a book, it's for either of these two reasons: a) I have to read it for school or b) I've seen the movie, and I'm interested in the book. Basically, I will really only choose to read the book if I've seen the movie. However, about a month ago I discovered that our school library had just put out 'The Help' by Kathryn Stockett, and I knew I had to read it. Mainly because I was going to see the movie whenever it came out. I finished the book about three weeks ago, and I loved every single page of it. When it came time for me to finally see the movie, I had a very different experience. I knew what was going to happen, I was constantly on the look out for the stuff I liked in the book, and I was just hoping that everyone did a good job playing the marvellous characters in the movie. While there were some things missing, I loved the movie version of The Help just about as much as I loved the novel.

I'm not going to lie, The Help is a movie which probably has it's best target audience as women and is 500 kinds of inspiration and hope. Well, kinda. The one thing that puts The Help a few steps ahead as a womens film is the fact that a vast majority of the characters are female. And these women aren't reduced to complaining about men and being neurotic. It all starts with Eugenia 'Skeeter' Phelan (Emma Stone), who wants to write a book from the point of view of 'the help', who were the African-American maids employed in white homes back in the 1960s. First, she asks maid Aibileen (Viola Davis) to help her, and she reluctantly agrees. Aibileen works for Skeeter's best friend Elizabeth Leefolt (Ahna O'Reilly), and usually sees Skeeter at bridge club, which is usually hosted by Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard). Hilly isn't the nicest belle in the county, and wants to open up a 'Home Sanitation Initiative", which means that every white home will have a separate bathroom for the coloured help. Hilly has also set out to make her ex-maid Minny's (Octavia Spencer) life miserable by telling everyone not to hire her because she's a 'thief'. Minny finds work out in the country for a blonde airhead Celia (Jessica Chastain), who isn't welcomed into the high society the rest of the women belong to because Hilly thinks that Celia was fooling around with her ex-boyfriend. And yeah, along comes a glitzy benefit, a few bridge clubs and Hilly Holbrook trying to make a mess of everything, all while Skeeter and the coloured maids are writing this tell-all book.

In comparison to the book, The Help certainly does gloss over many things (like how Hilly tries to make Skeeter's life miserable, the relationship Skeeter has with Stuart, the abuse towards Minny...). But this is what can be expected, considering that the book is rather large and Tate Taylor has managed to condense it down to a still rather lengthy two and a half hours. Still, with the long running time and many missing points, The Help is quite a faithful adaption which tugs at the heartstrings, and, you know, made me cry on five separate occasions. It doesn't really attempt to delve into the racism side of things, which is a shame, but it doesn't tone down the gritty stuff to the point where everything becomes mushy, either. It's basically just a look at the ins and outs of Jackson, Mississippi, just as it is. The style and story-telling in the film is very old-fashioned, which is a rarity in these times, but it perfectly fits the subject matter and the era that it is set to. From the costumes to the sets to the picturesque backgrounds, The Help doesn't falter in trying to recreate that world.

But perhaps the best feature in The Help is the talented cast, and how everyone remains faithful to their characters as they are in the book. Let's start with Viola Davis: undeniably the anchor of this film, who perfectly embodies the role of the wonderful Aibileen. I really hope that she does get some recognition come Oscar time, because she basically overpowered everyone with a single look. Octavia Spencer, who has quite an extensive filmography but is only just getting her break now, is also perfect as Minny, the sass-mouthing maid who could out-cook anyone of Masterchef. She plays the role with intensity and, of course, sassiness, even being lovable along the way. Rounding out the three leading ladies is Emma Stone, who had a boomer last year with her stunning turn in Easy A. She shows her dramatic chops here, but adds a bit of that Stone humour that we all love her for. The wig gets a little distracting sometimes, but at least someone else knows how I feel. Having curly hair isn't all that nice.

The supporting characters are just as great. One of the most beautiful women I have ever seen, Bryce Dallas Howard, plays the antagonist of the story, and she does it so brilliantly well. So well that I didn't actually think she was beautiful any more. Sissy Spacek plays her mother, who is slightly not there in the head, bringing some comic relief with her forgetfulness. Allison Janney and Mary Steenburgen provide nice support also, both guiding Skeeter along in some way or another. By now we all know the name Jessica Chastain, and we know that that name won't be going away any time soon. She has said that she never plays the same sort of role, and that is definitely true with her character in The Help. Celia was always my favourite character in the book, and I was quite pleased to see that most of her best moments were put into the movie (apart from the time when she beats up an old that was funny). Chastain's performance as Celia is a high point, mainly because she plays the blonde airhead without falling into the stereotype. And not to mention that Chastain, who is a vegan, ate some chicken in this movie. I don't know why I was so amazed by this.

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed The Help, despite the fact that I knew what was going to happen. It was hilarious and heartfelt, and quite brisk even though it had a slightly long running time. I couldn't be happier about how the novel was treated on screen.

What I got:


  1. Contagion becomes a battle between what it is and what it could have been. It satisfies just enough to warrant its existence while frustrating one with its potential. Nice review Stevee.

  2. I knew I should've went to see this! Definitely sounds interesting and worth a watch. Great review Stevee.

  3. I am quite looking forward to this one. It isn't up my normal street but I do love Emma Stone!!

    Great job Stevee

  4. Love love love this review. We still didn't get this movie but damn it I'm so anxious to see it. The fact that you cried five times gives me a hope that I will also cry. Yeah, love crying at the movies. I'm also glad that you said it is made in kind of old-fashioned way.

  5. Dan - Contagion? That movie has even come out in NZ yet :P

    Tyler - You should go and see it! Thanks!

    Scott - You might like it. Emma Stone is excellent, as she always is :P

    Lesya - Whenever you do get it, run to go and see it. I love crying in movies, so much so that I get really disappointed if I leave the cinema without a tear in my eye! And yes, it is made in a kind of old-fashioned way, which is cool.

  6. I saw some reviews saying this movie was racist. In a sort of driving miss daisy way. Did you see any of that in the film?

  7. Considering the racial themes in the movie, there is a bit of racism in it. It just shows the way things were back in those days.


You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.


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