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Julian’s Rating: 10/10
Player Affinity Composite Rating: 8.7/10
(4 reviews total)
The Help could have easily been a maudlin effort with little worth appreciating, but with an exceptional ensemble cast, a powerful script and surprisingly capable direction, it is the year’s best film thus far and will likely be among the best of the year even when December comes to a close.
The film sees three women – black maids Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) and Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), and white college grad Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone) – tackling racial adversities heavily enforced by socialite Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) in Jackson, Miss. during the 1960s. Skeeter helps Aibileen and Minny account their time as maids in white households, but while the three characters share that story, each also has her own individual obstacles to overcome.
In the trailers for this superbly crafted drama, it looks like we’ll be getting another “white lady saves the day” type of story that we’ve all seen before. Quite frankly, stories like that tend to boast more annoying qualities than inspiring ones. Thankfully, though, The Help doesn’t fall into that awful hole.
Director Tate Taylor, who also adapted the script from Kathryn Stockett’s novel, takes a unique stance on this emotional and weighty material. He doesn’t give us a preachy mantra filled with shallow solutions and nearly impossible character changes. It’s arguable that his work doesn’t even go out of its way to literally point out what’s so completely awful about the behaviors in 1960s Jackson.
Ironically enough, that actually works to the benefit of The Help. This film doesn’t need to make special commentary on how these people are acting because realizing that it’s a horrid way of living is as easy as seeing the behavior itself.
All three leads are fully fleshed-out protagonists, and while the script does have something to do with that, much of that can be credited to the powerful portrayals carved by Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, and Emma Stone. Davis goes above and beyond as the loving and kind yet quiet and reserved Aibileen. With just glances and the subtle quivers of her voice, she tells a story of desperation and heartbreak. As the story moves along, though, we notice that she becomes stronger and stronger, eventually leading to a defiant and devastating climax.
Spencer also has quite the task as the loud Minny. The polar opposite of Aibileen in attitude, she’s always speaking her mind, but she uses her wit and sass to build up walls around herself to where others can’t get in. Spencer balances the humor of the character alongside her inner pains, struggles, and insecurities. Because of her, Minny’s jokes are funnier, her drama is more moving, and her story is more powerful.
Last but not least for the leads, Stone’s departure from comedy makes for a surprisingly refreshing and strong Skeeter. With a genuine concern about others, she doesn’t take nonsense from anyone, and as it so happens, Stone’s comedic leanings help with this quality. Thanks to her, we also see that there’s an emotionally vulnerable side of this character. She never does anything without the utmost conviction in her portrayal.
Although she’s not quite a lead, Bryce Dallas Howard’s performance is definitely worth mentioning in detail. She does something quite unique as the hateful Hilly Holbrook. Sure, we know she’s an awful character, but oftentimes, don’t we find ourselves wondering why certain individuals in film have a sway over opinion? That’s oddly not the case here. We obviously have disgust for her actions and behaviors, but with her demeanor and faux-Southern hospitality, we can also see why she has a sway over the women in Jackson. Interestingly enough, we have a somewhat complex villain in Holbrook.
The Help also boasts an incredible supporting cast. Jessica Chastain hams it up as the ditzy outcast Celia Foote, though she capably navigates the character’s more dramatic moments. Allison Janney makes for a humorous yet somewhat tragic portrayal of Skeeter’s mother; Sissy Spacek does fine with her role as the mother of Hilly and she’s sure to get a few chuckles from moviegoers. Even with a very small role, Mary Steenburgen helps relay the disturbing ideas of the time period. Cicely Tyson gets only a few minutes of time on screen, but her facial expressions are harrowingly affecting and riveting.
If you do check out The Help, be sure to keep a few tissues handy. Otherwise, you shouldn’t need any help being moved by this powerful tale.
Directed by Tate Taylor
Written by Tate Taylor (screenplay) and Kathryn Stockett (novel)
Starring: Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone
Other Player Affinity Reviews
John thought: “Though relatively lightweight and somewhat manipulative, The Help is nonetheless affecting. It’s the acting that sets it apart from most films of its kind, and with no less than four excellent performances (courtesy of Jessica Chastain, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, and Emma Stone), it’s easy to forgive a film its missteps. I thought some of the characters were frustratingly one-dimensional, but the performances are still outstanding. And I found myself moved, but it wasn’t easy to get to that point. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, I guess, but on the whole, I’d definitely say there’s more to recommend here than there is to condemn. And with a boatload of money already in the coffer (as well as plenty of critical and public support), I think we’ll be talking about this film for a while — perhaps through next February.” Rating: 7.5/10
Steven thought: “The Help churns out a massive ensemble effort glowing with talent. Never has a female-dominated cast of this size given such strong performances across the board. If a standout has to be chosen for Oscar consideration, it has to be Davis. There’s that constant look in her eyes suggesting that she’s always carrying every single thing her character has ever been through into every scene. Spencer provides comic relief with surprising depth and supporting players Janney, Spacek and Chastain give (considering the screen time) quite the multi-dimensional performances. Most importantly, the film avoids being another example of your typical downer Civil Rights drama through these vibrant and earnest characters. Tate Taylor’s much more concerned about working with these actresses to create compelling portraits of characters and relationships than he is with creating gripping drama. Considering the film is no less poignant and maybe all the more likable for it, he made the right choice.” Rating: 9/10
Dinah thought: “The Help walks the tightrope of difficult subject manner and sentimental humor with grace and finesse. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer eat up every spare inch of the screen with looks of determination or — in the case of Spencer — veiled mischief. Supporting characters including Scooter’s mom, her former maid and a delightfully dumb outsider (Jessica Chastain) provide memorable and likeable subplots. Altogether the story is endearing though the dialogue is poorly conceived. Some of the dramatic performances including Emma Stone’s fell just short and the resident villains are edited in such a stilted manner that the credible actresses had no chance of salvaging them. Although it isn’t as dainty as a ballerina, The Help manages to smooth out its rough edges with a perfect ratio of drama and humor. Rating: 8.5/10
Player Affinity Composite Rating: 8.7/10