THE HELP Review

"The Help" has a few issues. This is true, it could have been a few scenes shorter, it could have dealt more heavily with its strong subject matter-but being a darker film doesn't make it more true and that is the issue I have with many of the complaints about this movie. I can admit it has a few flaws, but this is easily one of the best, most inspiring and heartbreaking films I have seen all year. Based on the apparently hugely popular novel by Kathryn Stockett (which I will definitely be reading soon) and brought to the screen by Stockett's childhood friend and actor turned director Tate Taylor "The Help" is a perfectly approached film dealing with one of the nastiest scars this country has in its short history. Everyone knows the story of the civil rights movement and what that led to and how it still influences today's society, but to see a story that evokes a lifestyle many in this country never knew existed and to tell that story from the point of view of those having first hand experience with true hatred allows the film to be, in parts, extremely moving and hard to swallow. "The Help" may offer just as many laughs as it does moments of harsh reality and moving sentiments but for me, that simply showed how well-rounded this film truly is. We never feel as if we are being preached to, but instead we are experiencing the strength of a select few individuals and how courage, in the most credible of ways, is something no one is born with but instead is a choice you have to make when the consequences of displaying such a trait are unknown.
Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) is a stronger person than I,
as she listens in on what is no doubt a degrading conversation.
That sentiment of courage is what drives the women of "The Help" to do an act that could cause death to knock on any of their doorsteps. It is there defiance to sit back any longer and be talked about and down to while they stand by and raise the children of the women who cut them down. It inspires an audience full of the films antagonists descendants to root for these characters. While it is a touchy subject matter the film doesn't shy away from the facts of what was really going on in Jackson, Mississippi in the sixties. The unapologetic ignorance of the towns beauty queens turned housewives is put on full display. Their hatred and ridiculousness go to such extents as to spout lines such as "They carry different diseases than us," to sting every member of the audience into a realization that people were really like this at one point, and the sad thought that some people still are. Let us get to the point though, what really allows this well layered story to rise above what could have easily been made into an over dramatic melodrama of a film is the talent of acting we have on display here. Two words will define the critical success of this film: Viola Davis. There is no doubt we will also be hearing that name come Oscar season and Davis is in fine form here, adding the most heartfelt facial expressions to every facet of her performance and for genuinely portraying what a level headed, strong black woman would have done were they in her situation. Davis' Aibileen Clark is the roots for which this film grows upon and it could not have been built on more sturdy ground. Only adding to the flourishing story are the likes of Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sissy Spacek, Allison Janney, and a star making performance from Octavia Spencer.

Celia (Jessica Chastain) and Minnie (Octavia Spencer)
form a special friendship in "The Help".
Stone is evolving as an actress with each role and as Skeeter she makes her biggest leap yet. As Jackson's seemingly only young woman who isn't interested in finding a husband and giving him babies she is a breath of fresh air and on Stone's fragile shoulders Skeeter holds the many plots of the film together. Stone is more than capable though and we knew this. Skeeter is a more toned down version of her sarcastically witty persona that has shown through in previous roles and she allows herself the pleasure of not just taking in the stories of these maids and putting them on paper, but standing up for what she believes is right as well. Skeeter sees the injustice that is happening and is not afraid to confront it. This provides a perfect character for Stone as well as calling for her to stretch those acting chops more than any previous role has required and I am so relieved to say she takes control from scene one and is a joy to watch grow as the movie moves along. Howard is perfectly cast as Hilly Holbrook, the most racist and stupefyingly blind character in the film and Sissy Spacek shares a few scenes as her mother. Spacek gives a great turn in what is essentially a comedic relief role and joins Spencer's Minnie and Chastain's Celia Foote as one of the many scene stealer's in the film. While Spacek is a touch of calculated hilarity both Spencer and Chastain are incredible as two outcasts of this divided society. Celia is unwelcome with her bridge friends because of undisclosed circumstances with Hilly and Minnie is unable to find a job due to Hilly spreading a bad word about her. This relationship and the great performances ( I wouldn't be surprised if come Oscar season we see Spencer and Chastain competing for Best Supporting Actress) add another dimension to "The Help" that only reenforces how complete this world is, but how disturbingly true it rings.

Skeeter (Emma Stone) uses the only way she knows how
to make a difference in Jackson: her words.
Before finishing this review I looked through all the other films I have seen so far this year and despite this not being a particularly strong year for grand Hollywood productions, there have certainly been a handful of better than average films. "The Help" may take the cake so far though. I can't think of a more fulfilling experience I've had at the theater this year. I can only hope that as we make our way into the crowded fall movie season that all the Oscar hopefuls soon to be hitting screens don't cloud our minds to the point we forget about what a great movie this is and how much it deserves serious recognition. Not just for the craft with which it was made or the skill with which it is performed but the fact of why it was made. To tell this story, to recognize our faults, and to feel truly inspired are traits in a motion picture we don't see very often and "The Help" has all of them. I went to see this film on a rainy Thursday night, not expecting the theater to be filled with more than myself, my wife, and a few other film enthusiasts and fans of the book that couldn't wait for the weekend. The theater was packed. Every seat, full. I have not read the book from which this is based, but it is clear it has had some kind of serious cultural impact and if the movie compares to its literary companion in any way (and I certainly have a good feeling it does) I believe the films impact will be just as strong, if not more so.