Friday, August 26, 2011

Review - The Help

Capitalizing on a loll in enticing summer theater fare, The Help offers a swell counter-programming alternative to filmgoers tired of the deluge of loud blockbusters. It's clearly struck a chord with audiences, hurtling Rise of the Planet of the Apes in its second week of release. In the interest of seeing what all the fuss is about, I took it in today and rifled off a brief review.

Fresh-faced college graduate and aspiring writer Skeeter (Emma Stone) returns to her Mississippi hometown of Jackson and is spurred by the old-fashioned racist attitudes of her peers to compose an exposing series of interviews with the community's black housemaids. Of course, finding willing interviewees among the apprehensive help proves a challenge, but she eventually makes an ally in the at-first reluctant Aibileen (Viola Davis), and their boat-rocking project discreetly lifts off.

Writer-director Tate Taylor has done a fine job of laying out Kathryn Stockett's bestseller for the screen, striking a nice balance between all the story's emotional beats and levity. Perhaps it yanks at the heartstrings a tad conspicuously at times, but the sincerity of the acting sells it well enough. Indeed, Taylor's real gift to this project is in his handling of the performances, each of which is sharply realized by a splendid cast:

Emma Stone, whose star continues to rise, is a magnanimous central presence, although the real lead of the piece is Viola Davis, whose subdued expressiveness communicates a great deal of fear and sadness. The supporting players are all ace. Octavia Spencer (a likely Oscar nominee for her work here) provides a well judged blend of comic “sass mouthin'” and dramatic heft. The ubiquitous Jessica Chastain bubbles with infectious eccentricity. Sissy Spacek is hilarious in a succinct minor role. Allison Janney, always a delight, nails her character arc and manages to exude levels of sympathy you wouldn't expect her character to deserve. And perhaps my favourite performance of the lot goes to Bryce Dallas Howard for taking up the thankless task of playing the waspish queen bee of Jackson's privileged elite. She shares a potent moment with Viola Davis at the end of the film that cuts straight to the bone.

It's a shame that a story as ultimately uplifting as The Help has to contend with the politics of our PC age. Those who condemn the film for depicting the empowerment of a minority thanks to the intervention of an enlightened white character are undermining its hopeful spirit, and missing out on a really well executed and enjoyable movie.

*** out of ****

5 comments:

  1. The Help looks real good, though I'm afraid it's a chick flick.

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  2. I thought it looked like that too (from the trailer), but after seeing it I wouldn't describe it as such.

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  3. the main criticism I've hear was how it took the material of segregation not far enough in terms of the harsh realities of life, and I got that vibe from the trailers. Not that thats a bad thing, well depending upon how a story should be told, but looking back at the Blind Side, I noticed that they didn't take the harsh realities far enough and thus we ended up with a film that seemed to show the white race as the saviors, but I don't know, I still need to check this out...

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  4. The Help isn't nearly as bad for that as was The Blind Side.

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  5. The Help didn't have issues of depicting it's content realistically. It gave plenty of acknowledgment to the horrors portrayed yet the movie was not meant to be a melodramatic depiction of Jim Crow south for black women. It is a story of sympathy, perspectives, and the care that comes when people when people take a look from another perspective and have sympathy. With this take on it, brought humor, love and compassion. This isn't The Color Purple or Sounder, it's not supposed to teach you about sexism and racism but gives you a new and different human understanding of such topics.

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