Help, The

Release date: August 10, 2011
Directed by: Tate Taylor
Novel by: Kathryn Stockett
Written by: Tate Taylor
Cast: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek

While many films avoid addressing topics of racism and segregation head-on, The Help does a fine job at intimately portraying the lives of both white and black women of the 1960s. Tate Taylor directs and writes this film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s novel, about African-American maids working in white households in the city of Jackson, Mississippi.

The film begins by introducing us to Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan (Stone), a young woman who has recently returned to her hometown Jackson after college, with aspirations of becoming a writer. Going against her mother’s (Janney) hopes of her daughter getting married, she takes a job as a columnist for the local newspaper, dishing out home-cleaning advice, and relying on her friend’s sincere maid, Aibileen Clark (Davis). After realizing just how unjustly her old friends have been treating the help — especially Hilly Holbrook (Howard), who rules the community of women with fear — Skeeter decides to take matters into her own hands. She proposes to interview Aibileen about her experiences being a black maid working for a white woman. With much hesitation, Aibileen agrees and the two begin to secretly meet, resulting in many interviews between the two women.

Meanwhile, Hilly Holbrook has fired her confrontational maid, Minny Jackson (Spencer) without much reason. Her firing served as a part of her plan to get rid of her mother, Missus Walters (Spacek), by sticking her in a nursing home. It isn’t until Minny joins in on Aibileen and Skeeter that even more is revealed about certain events between Hilly and Minny — one that especially provides the women safety in their potentially illegal meetings. Hilly continues to press the other women into promoting her own racist agenda, making sure that Minny is not hired and isolating one of the towns newcomers — Celia Foote (Chastain). It is in Mrs. Foote that Minny finds luck, and is warmly welcomed into the life of a lonely woman who hopes to take care of her home and husband — without his knowledge.

The tales of these women are all interwoven through friendship, rivalry, and especially through Skeeter — who is driven to tell the story of these women by publishing a novel. When she is told she must have at least a dozen maids for these stories to get published, Skeeter relies on Aibileen in hopes that she might soon gain the help she needs to tell everyone’s story.

While at times the pacing felt a bit off and the inclusion of a romantic subplot seemed a bit unnecessary — as did most of the men in this film — The Help was helped along by great dialogue and impeccable casting. I cannot stress the fact that the casting of this film could not have been better.

Viola Davis provides all the heart this film needs, drawing tears from many audience members. And Octavia Spencer dishes out the sass and laughter to balance the film out with ease. Emma Stone breaks out of her straight comedy roles and brings both kindness and emotion to the film, proving to do well in a drama. Jessica Chastain, further proving her talent after a breathtaking performance in The Tree of Life, brings us one of the most refreshing and misunderstood characters of the film. Bryce Dallas Howard’s performance is also extremely notable for her ruthless and malevolent character — although it is a bit disappointing that there was no background established for why she was such a racist and bigoted woman.

Many films dealing with race, unfortunately, steer into dark territories. The Help is one of the many that takes a simple approach to portraying racial imbalances in the sixties. The fact that Skeeter is the savior or tool that the women of color need to rise above racism is disappointing and a major flaw in the film.

While it may not be for everyone, it provides character depth, a fantastic show of acting, and an inspirational story that many will feel for on multiple levels.

Rating: ★★★¾☆ 

Juan Barquin

Just yer average twenty-something college student with no time on his hands who ends up watching (and writing) too many movies and shows for his own good.

10 Responses

  1. amy says:

    Did you read the IndieWire (?) review? It talked about watching segregation through a filter – I really don’t know what people want out of films that deal with racism… sometimes I see people complaining about minorities that are too happy, or that minorities that suffer too much.

    Seems like a decent film to watch, though I haven’t read the book — but then again… there aren’t many books that I have read so… xD

    • Juan Barquin says:

      @amy, To be completely honest – I’m sick and tired of this whole bullshit notion that every single film that deals with racism has to be completely brutal and fucked up. Audiences don’t react well to those films and critics are just blinded whenever they complain about racism. Surprise: not every single moment in the lives of people of different races are going to be either A) extremely happy, or B) extremely dismal. No matter how terrible life gets, they have a balance of joy and suffering. Most people do. Also, different people hold different stories. Maybe the type of segregation in this specific place is not the same as it was in other places. It seems to me like most critics complaining about the portrayal just don’t know enough about the culture surrounding the times. Honestly, the film holds up as more of a look at feminism than at racism – which I really enjoyed.

      It’s a good film with great acting, and I haven’t read the book either but I’ll be damned if I say I didn’t enjoy myself a lot in this one. Plenty of laughs, lots of emotions, and definitely worth a watch.

      Oh god I just rambled so much in that paragraph from frustration lol

    • Castor says:

      @amy,

      Yea people will always say a movie is racist because it deals with racism. That’s stupid really…

      • amy says:

        @Castor, yeah! It’s like… there are not enough minority characters, it’s racist! The characters are too sad, that’s racist! Why can’t such and such be happy? The characters are too happy, it hides the suffering our people suffered! Must be racism!

  2. amy says:

    Finally saw the film, and pretty much agree with everything you said in the review. Gotta give Bryce the props for committing to the hypocrite bitch role, though. Wow. LOL

    Considering how well this did at the box office, what chance do you see for an Oscar nod? I think it’s got a good chance for Best Picture, but I think it would need another nomination to really lock it for BP. Viola Davis could be for actress… I’m not sure whether they would push her for supporting or main actress though. She definitely carried the film, but it seems Stone is being billed as the main character there…

    Maybe best costume or something.

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