The Help (starring Emma Stone)
It is so refreshing to see a film that is not only educational but also inspirational while still entertaining. Based on the bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett, THE HELP is an emotional power force that will surely have audiences laugh, cry, think and love; ultimately making us all better for having seen it.
In Mississippi, during the 1960’s just before the Civil Rights movement began, black people were no longer slaves however they were treated like a family pet that could be paid minimally to do chores. They had separate eating quarters, their toilet was outside and they were not to be trusted. Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan (Emma Stone) has recently returned home from college and quickly becomes a column writer for a local paper. Seeing how her snooty socialite friends whom she grew up with mistreat their black maids, Skeeter is inspired to write a story from the help’s perspective. The problem is if she wants an honest account of the story, she will surely be outcast and those maids that choose to help will not only lose their jobs that support their children but also run the risk of their lives in such a racist society.
I have had the privilege to review many of Emma Stone’s films and she once again is absolutely magnetic. However, even though her character is our gateway into the picture the main stars and heart of the film lies with the two maids that tell their story. Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark chooses her words carefully as a smart but quiet broken down woman with a reserved kind heart. Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson pops off the screen with her no nonsense attitude and biting humor. I guarantee both will be making a full time run on the awards circuit.
Clearly a front-runner when it comes to possible Academy Award nominations, THE HELP is a film that isn’t just Oscar bait but rather earns and deserves all the accolades it will definitely receive. The costuming, hair, makeup and art direction were all beautifully done, never losing a moment to immerse itself into the southern 60’s. But the performances are what really stand out and I would feel remised if I failed to mention them. I personally think eight of the ladies have a shot at being nominated, which would nearly cover the entire field. The supporting cast of Allison Janney and Sissy Spacek are intricate roles as the mothers who originally raised or not raised their children to believe in the inferior race classes. They provide comic relief, understanding and some likability even among their wrongful ways. Bryce Dallas Howard is excellent as the villainous socialite that will never see people of a different color as her equal and Jessica Chastain is adorable as a clueless, naïve aspiring socialite. With minimal screen time, Cicely Tyson as the housekeeper who raised Skeeter is a marvel to watch, telling so much of the cruelty and lack of respect with just her eyes and demeanor.
One of my biggest complaints in film is when villains are one dimensionally evil. I don’t understand it and believe there has to be some grey areas to work with. But I forget it wasn’t too long ago when we as a nation enforced slavery because of the color of one’s skin. It’s a heart-breaking act that I am thankful most of my generation finds unfathomable. One small piece of that change is due to the fact that so many children were raised by black women. This brings up Skeeter’s poignant question, “What’s it like raising a white child while not being able to see your own?”
I felt certain moments could have been stronger and there are a few subplots that fail to further the story – specifically, Skeeter’s unnecessary love story. However, director Tate Taylor apparently realized this as well as he glosses over it quickly pulling out only moments that might help the audience better connect with Skeeter. These are the tiniest of faults in an absolutely wonderful film. THE HELP has purpose with a positive story that brings so much joy and pain. With a nearly all female cast the film not only highlights the struggle for black women but also for women in general. The inspiration is nearly immediate as Miss Aibileen Clark teaches a little white girl that is ignored by her own mother, “You is kind, You is smart, You is important” and that is exactly the deserved compliment we owe to THE HELP.