The Help Review
Directed by Tate Taylor
Written by Tate Taylor
Produced by Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan, Brunson Green
Starring Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Allison Janey, and Jessica Chastain
Runtime: 2 hr, 26 min
Released August 10, 2011
Reviewed December 25, 2012
I hate chick flicks. Dear Lord in heaven, do I ever hate chick flicks. There’s no sexism involved, I swear. They just have the same dang characters, in the same dang situations, going through the same dang motions. In every movie, it is the same dang thing, and I am sick of it. Now, to stop myself from going on a rant, I’m going to have to stop there, but just know this: I hate chick flicks. PERIOD. That’s why I was so hesitant to see The Help. Look at the cast. There’s no guys in the cast. That’s a sure sign of a chick flick. My mom and sister went to see it, and they came back swearing it was the best movie of the year (my mom lost twenty bucks to me on a bet that it would win best picture). I said, “No” I wasn’t ready to believe that. My dad saw it when it came out on DVD. He said it was great. So, betrayed by my own father, I yielded. I watched The Help. Let me rephrase my earlier statement: I hate chick flicks...with the exception of The Help.
The film takes place during the early 1960s, during the Civil Rights Movement. Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone, The Amazing Spider-man) is an independent, slightly headstrong graduate of Ole Miss whose dream is to become a writer, whether in newsprint or in a novel. After getting a job in a newspaper housecleaning column, Skeeter has an idea for a book. Enlisting the help of a friend’s maid, Aibileen (Viola Davis, Doubt), Skeeter plans to write a book written from the point of view of “the help”, and the stories they tell of their lives. Many of the maids raise white children and have a bigger part in their lives than their birth mothers, and Skeeter hopes to capture some of these stories in the novel. Neither she or Aibileen could have predicted the controversy that would follow, nor how it would change both of their lives for the better.
I’m going to get it out in the open real quick, there is not a single bad performance in this movie. There isn’t really even an “okay” performance. In The Help there are “great” performances, and there are “really great” performances. A movie doesn’t get three acting Oscar nominations (one win) without having some really powerhouse acting. If I had to pick one, it would probably be Octavia Spencer (Being John Malkovich) in her role as Minny Jackson. The character is absolutely hilarious, and Spencer brings that to life fantastically.
Other standouts are Viola Davis as Aibileen, Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life) as Celia Foote, and Cicely Tyson (Fried Green Tomatoes) as Constantine Bates. In contrast to Spencer’s more comedic performance, both Davis and Chastain have more dramatic characters with their own respective, more tragic (though not too tragic) backstories. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the naivete of Celia Foote is played quite a bit for comedic effect, but Chastain’s performance really shines through during the darker scenes. Cicely Tyson is on here for one reason. She had all of about five minutes of screentime, and almost had me in tears. Heck I don’t even think she said anything in her second scene, and that was the one where I felt she did her best. That’s great acting. All in all, it was, I’d say, the second-best ensemble of 2011 (first being Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), and a huge part of the reason this movie works.
Other than the acting (which is pretty darn good, in case you didn’t catch that), the script is downright hilarious. If you don’t laugh during this movie, you don’t have a soul. Period. If not for some of the darker scenes, I would have to call this a dramedy. Most of the comedy comes from Minny, who I don’t think went two minutes the whole movie without spouting off something that’d have me laughing out loud.
The only problem I really had with the movie that I guess took away from it for me were the characters of Skeeter and Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard, 50/50), who is the main antagonist of the movie. The problem I have with these characters is pretty much the same thing. Skeeter is the main protagonist, and she has no flaws. No internal conflict to make her a more three-dimensional character, no growth except external growth in getting her first job. My dad and I were talking after we watched the movie again, and he said that he thought it would have been better if Skeeter had been battling some sort of self-esteem issue throughout the movie. It’s mentioned in a flashback that she wasn’t very good looking in high school, and if some of that self-consciousness carried over into adulthood, it could have made for interesting internal character growth.
Now, my problem with Hilly is the exact opposite. She is an antagonist with no redeeming qualities. There is nothing good about her. She has no backstory explaining why in the name of all that is holy she is the way that she is. She is a (expletive involving female canine removed) out of (expletive involving the opposite of heaven removed); the spawn of Satan; the distant cousin of Emperor Palpatine. I realize that antagonists don’t always need these, but since she’s a human living in the real world and not completely evil, she should have something good about her. It doesn’t even have to prevail in the end, but something good or some kind of back story. I know that she’s from the south, and being in the south in the ‘60s meant you might have some racist tendencies, but Hilly just seems to go out of her freaking way to be a...well...I already used that word once. Twice might be overdoing it. You know what I mean, though.
Overall, The Help is a wonderful movie with a wonderfully funny screenplay, and exceptionally wonderful acting. It is the only thing even remotely close to a chick flick that I can tolerate, and aside from a few issues, it’s a movie that I’d highly recommend seeing if you haven’t already.
THE HELP’S SCORE: 21/25; 84%; A-
Wannabe Movie Critic