MOVIE REVIEW: The Help

The Wife and I went to see the movie The Help a couple Saturdays ago at a very crowded room at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany. We had been looking forward to seeing it since we caught the trailer. Our anticipation was further enhanced by happening to catch Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays the primary “villain”, for lack of a better term, on CTV while we were in Toronto a couple weeks back, describing her role as “delicious.”

And I was going to write my impressions right away, but I got distracted by issues in the press surrounding the movie and the book upon which it was based. They are that, essentially it’s a white woman wrote about the black experience, with the film being the latest example of Hollywood’s historically lunkheaded, white-guilt appeasement genre.

Well, I’ve not read the book. As for the issues of the movie, I don’t think they were making a documentary, so if the movie makers didn’t get it 100% correctly, that’s OK; most Hollywood films don’t. Beyond that, though, there were some well-meaning white people in America in 1962, even in the South, even in Jackson, Mississippi, so making the one of the white leads as heroic (in vast contrast to most whites in the film) doesn’t make it some sort of sellout. No, it does not solve the issues of race in America; it was not designed to do so.

Anyway, let me tell you how I immediately felt after seeing the film: the first 1/5 was interesting but not particularly engaging. The last 80%, though, I either laughed or gasped or cried. I enjoyed it on that level; actually I liked it quite a bit. The acting was universally fine, but especially Viola Davis, who just might get an Oscar nod.

From Rotten Tomatoes: The Help stars Emma Stone as Skeeter, Viola Davis as Aibileen and Octavia Spencer as Minny-three very different, extraordinary women in Mississippi during the 1960s, who build an unlikely friendship around a secret writing project that breaks societal rules and puts them all at risk. From their improbable alliance a remarkable sisterhood emerges, instilling all of them with the courage to transcend the lines that define them, and the realization that sometimes those lines are made to be crossed-even if it means bringing everyone in town face-to-face with the changing times. — (C) DreamWorks

This was a film about people who were invisible, black maids who often raised white children, eventually finding a voice through a crazy notion of college-grad-returns-home Skeeter, who is faced additionally with the mystery of why her family’s maid (played by the terrific Cicely Tyson) had suddenly left. At 145 minutes, it IS too long, but I didn’t find it histronic as some did. Perhaps this is true, though: “It is a formulaic Hollywood feel-bad and then feel-good work, one in which beautifully bathed-in-sunlight characters say Very Important Things while music swells.” As I said, I liked it anyway, especially with smaller roles by Alison Janney, Jessica Chastain, and others.
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Yet another movie controversy: Is gaining 15 pounds really “torture”? Actresses pack it on and lose it again for “The Help” — what’s the big deal?

2 thoughts on “MOVIE REVIEW: The Help

  1. I read the book recently and was just emailing a friend that we should network the folks who’ve read it, see the movie, then go to a coffee shop for a discussion.

    It sounds like a terrific cast (Janney is one of the unsung greats in Hollywood, marginalized because she’s not gorgeous and spent most of her time on West Wing, also kicking butt. Movies most notable for diverse roles are Juno, The Hours, and almost unrecognizable in American Beauty.)

    How CAN a white woman write a book in three different voices, two of them Black, and not be criticized? Rhetorical question. I’ll let you know what I think after I see the movie, but my husband wants to go, too.

    Gaining 15 pounds is EASY! I could do it in a week. Losing it? Ay, there’s the rub!! Amy
    http://sharplittlepencil.wordpress.com/2011/08/25/hot-town-poetry-tow-truck/

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