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I just returned from seeing a special preview of "The Help," which is
due out in theaters this summer.
Okay, so here's the truth: I'm a middle-aged, white male... I didn't read the book and I assumed, based on the fact that this is a virtually an all-female cast, that this was some sort of chick flick. Boy, was I wrong!
This is an incredible film that not only pays justice to the bestseller on which it's based (according to those who have read the book AND seen the film), but is phenomenally cast, with exceptional performances by Viola Davis, Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard and Allison Janney. Veteran actresses Sissy Spacek and Cicely Tyson also deliver incredible performances. While Tyson's character is central to the storyline, her role comprises what seems to be a few, precious minutes of the 2:20 running time, she delivers, in my opinion, one of the most powerful and moving moments in the film...one in which she doesn't even utter a line (trust me, you'll know when you see it.)
The Help also delivers some very funny moments and will make you laugh. I'll go so far as to say that this film and a few of its cast members will draw some Oscar nominations. I certainly think this takes Stone into a whole new level.
The racial imbalances of 1963 are well illustrated in "The Help," and will, no doubt, underscore how far America has come, as well as how little progress we've made in the last 50 years. Either way, this is a powerful movie that needs to be seen on the big screen as soon as you can get a ticket.
If this film were total fiction bearing no relation to reality, it
would still be worth seeing for the fine acting and production
values--even if some of the young white women approached "Southern
But it wasn't fiction--at least, the depiction of Southern society wasn't. As I watched I kept drifting back to small-town South Carolina in the 1950s, where I grew up. It was moving and disturbing to be reminded how black people were treated then--loved and yet "kept down in their place." Our neighborhood was all middle-class and every family had a maid. There were plenty of boys my age, we visited in each other's homes, and called every maid by her first name. One even started a baseball team for the little white boys, for which her reward was a visit by the Klan.
Our maid helped my mother cook and clean. One of my parents picked her up and took her home every day--and she rode in the back seat. She ate her lunch in our kitchen--without being allowed to use our utensils. I remember her eating with her fingers. I do not remember ever seeing her use our bathrooms. I thought about that during the movie and truly cannot recall what she did, an embarrassing gap in memory.
I do remember when my father was out of work and our maid had to be cut back to three days a week. I actually cried; she was a member of our family. When talk about civil rights began in the late 1950s, my mother became annoyed at our maid for getting "uppity." And so it went. We moved to central Florida in 1961, where there were no maids.
Travel back in time with this film. It's quite real, and I highly recommend it.
I just got back from a special-screening of "The Help" at my local
movie theatre, so I thought that I might as well do a review for all of
you who are wanting to see this movie when it comes out.
Now, first off, I must admit that I have only read a portion of the book, but I definitely do know a lot about it. After watching the trailer, I was intrigued, so of course, I visited the IMDb boards to learn more about it. At first glance, the casting caught my attention big-time. Emma Stone as 'Skeeter'? I bet most people were as shocked as I was to find out that she was cast as the main character -- but let me tell you what: the casting was superb! I could not have chosen a better cast than what was already chosen. There was amazing chemistry between both the antagonists and protagonists. I won't go into too much depth about the characters, but for me, Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain, Sissy Spacek, and Octavia Spencer were the shining stars of the movie.
Casting: 9.5/10 I know that there has been an on-going issue about this movie from a lot of people claiming that "the blacks had to be 'saved' by the whites" (pardon the language), or something along those lines. I have to agree that the trailer does give off that type of vibe -- Skeeter saving the colored-folks -- however, the movie tells and depicts otherwise - the colored-folks actually saved themselves. Minny and Aibileen, as well as the other colored-folks in the community, were the real "heroes" of the movie; they just needed someone to push them to their potential (Skeeter).
I can not remember the last time I saw a movie that inspired me, made me cry, made me laugh, and made me sad, angry, and hopeful, all at the same time -- this is what "The Help" strides and aims for, without making it "cheesy". Without a doubt in my mind, there are definitely Oscar-worthy performances in this movie. Not only does this movie depict just the colored-folks' side of the story, but it also equally shows the feelings of the white-folks, as well. So, you definitely get both sides of the story without it being more or less "mean" or "degrading" to any sides.
There are definitely a few awkward moments in the movie, but what movie doesn't have them? This movie started around 7:10 and ended around 9:20 -- about 2 hours and 10 minutes, give or take, if my calculations are correct. However, this movie only felt like it was an hour-long. It was so good that I didn't even know the two hours passed by until the theatre lights lid and the rolling credits began.
All in all, this is a DEFINITELY-MUST-SEE movie. I personally believe that it is one of the best movies of 2011. Go see it -- you will not regret it. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.
Movie rating: 9/10
Greetings again from the darkness. The film is based on the
controversial best selling novel by Kathryn Stockett. It was
controversial because it is the story of Jim Crow-era maids written by
a white woman. Yes, the book is actually the fictionalized story of a
white woman getting black maids to discuss their lives as maids for
white folks. Rather than get into some politically correct dissertation
on the book, movie or story, I will only comment on the film itself ...
this very entertaining movie that also manages to deliver a timeless
Let me first start by saying that this movie is incredibly well acted. It is quite rare to have so many developed characters in one movie. There are some characters we immediately connect with, while others draw our ire each time their face appears. The script and these fine actresses utilize humor to point out the shameful behavior of those who saw themselves as superior. The humor doesn't soften the ignorance or abuse, but it does make the film infinitely more watchable and entertaining. Please know this is not a documentary.
Ms. Stockett's novel has a very loyal following in addition to the naysayers. A two hour film must, of course, take short cuts and trim story lines. Still the key elements are present. Based in Jackson, Mississippi during Governor Ross Barnett's term we see the social shark, Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), in her full glory of ignorance, entitlement and superiority. We see her minions and followers emulating her moves while trying to gain her approval.
The story takes off when Skeeter (Emma Stone) graduates from Ole Miss and returns home and takes a job at the local newspaper. Possessing observation skills and humanity that her lifelong friends can't comprehend, Skeeter desperately wants to tell a story from the perspective of the maids. As expected, the maids are hesitant, but Aibileen (Viola Davis) does relent. The stories begin to flow and soon the robust Minny (Octavia Spencer) joins in. Others soon follow their lead and Skeeter's education goes to an entirely new level.
That's really all of the story I care to discuss. The brilliance of this one is actually in the details ... individual scenes and moments of acting genius by most of the cast. In addition to those mentioned above, Jessica Chastain plays Celia, the "white trash" outcast who so desperately wants to be allowed back into the girls' club. Ms. Chastain was seen a few weeks ago in the fabulous "Tree of Life" in quite a different role ... I would venture to say no actress will have two roles of such variance this year. Also, Allison Janney plays Skeeter's cancer-stricken mother, and Sissy Spacek is Hilly's mother who gets tossed aside before she is ready to go! The great Cicely Tyson makes a brief appearance as Constantine, Skeeter's childhood maid who was done so wrong after 29 years of service. Mary Steenburgen has a couple of scenes as a big NYC book publisher.
As a said, this is pure acting heaven, but I must single out Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. Viola is so powerful at the beginning and end of the film, and Ms. Spencer is a force of nature during the middle. This movie is really their story and these two ladies make it fascinating, painful and a joy to behold. They both deserve recognition at Oscar time.
There are so many fantastic details to the film. At times, it is like watching a classic car show ... the late 50's and early 60's models are works of art. The wardrobe, hair and make-up are perfect in setting up the class differentials. The TV and radio segments provide context and timing with the deaths of Medger Evers and JFK. Even the books on Skeeter's shelf make a statement: To Kill a Mockingbird, Huck Finn, Native Son, and Gone With the Wind.
This story takes place 50 years ago and director Tate Taylor does an admirable job of bringing Stockett's novel to the big screen. Mr. Taylor is a longtime friend of Ms. Stockett's and was quite fortunate to get the directing rights. He doesn't disappoint. Sure the story is a bit glossy at times ... it is geared towards the masses. If you are looking for more depth, there are numerous documentaries available on the Civil Rights movement. If you are seeking a very entertaining movie that uses humor to tell a story and send a message, then this one's for you.
I took our 12 year old daughter to see this movie and we both loved it. She was not thrilled when I told her we were going to see a film that told a story from the civil rights era but when we left she said she loved it because of the women's courage, their humor and the power of their friendships. We had never seen most of the actors which was refreshing and the acting by the entire cast made it easy to get totally involved. I laughed out loud and shed quite a few tears in The Help, and will remember it and recommend it to my friends. It was wonderful to see so many scenes in which the actors related to each other so perfectly. Even the vilest characters showed moments of conflict within themselves as they played out poor behavior that had long been inbred in them. I am especially grateful to the team who provided a film that told an engaging story about human relationships with important lessons for my daughter. That is a rare occurrence in today's movies.
Recently the other Dude and I were discussing that not many award
worthy movies come out during the summer; then I see The Help. To say
it is not a story that I am normally interested in would be an
understatement. I wasn't around during the time of segregation to fully
appreciate the depth of this story. Additionally, if there was ever a
movie that screamed "chick flick" it would be this one. In spite of
that, I've heard wonderful things about the book and decided to view
the movie. I'm happy to say that I'm glad that I did. Virtually unknown
director Tate Taylor put together a cast of relatively unknown actors
and actresses that truly made the story go.
Taylor, whose last movie was the little seen Pretty Ugly People, grabbed a familiar actress to join him in making The Help, Allison Janney. Other than Janney the only other familiar actresses in the movie are Cicely Tyson and Sissy Spacek. The rather unknown cast has a fresh feeling on the story and there are no preconceived notions based on a past actor or actresses work. That being said Emma Stone (Easy A), and Viola Davis had a true coming out party in The Help. Both women played fantastic parts, which really made the cast mesh nicely together. Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain were all spectacular in supporting roles alongside Stone and Davis.
When a movie doesn't have the explosions, crazy action or crude humor that we've become accustomed to seeing in newer movies there has got to be a great story attached in order to maintain your interest; The Help had that great story. There aren't many movies that have you laughing, crying, or getting angry and end up still being fantastic and that is where this one had me. With my common rule of no movie should be over 2 hours unless it is special; this one is very special. I would be surprised if there aren't a number of nominations coming.
Children: If they can handle a lot of dialog it is age appropriate for 10+ Award Worthy: YES! Nominations for: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Screenplay, Picture, Director Entertaining: Yes Summer Movie Grade: A+ Is it Worth the Price of a Movie ticket: Yes Would I watch It Again: Yes
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Oscar Oscar Oscar Kathryn Stockett's beautiful book is Oscar worthy
in this film -- for editing, screenplay, supporting actress (several
deserving) Emma Stone just shines at just 22 years old, this film
proves she is a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. There are so
few roles written for black women and I was thrilled to see such great
roles filled by Viola Davis (Abigail) and Octavia Spencer (Minnie) -
both should be nominated for supporting roles although in my opinion,
along with Emma Stone, all three share top billing.
The character development in this movie is really outstanding I hate movies with flat single dimension characters and these from the lowest to those with the most screen time are just remarkably developed even the newspaper editor, the lines they chose for him to keep gave you enough information that even he is a memorable character with only three scenes, maybe 4 in the entire movie. Same for Stuart, Skeeter's love interest you actually like him then hate him and he only has maybe 3 minutes of air time. Great great job. Sissy Spacek with so few speaking moments is great as is Cicely Tyson who speaks volumes even in scenes with no words. Admittedly, being based on an amazing book the background story was already set out and tracks the book closely without some of the details but they have done a great job of putting it to film
This movie sets out beautifully a terrible time in our history that unfortunately is not over it is better, but not over by a long shot. Being a child of the south and coming up during that time, being raised by such bigoted grandparents and parents, it leaves me pause to wonder how I avoided this rabid virus of hate and takes me back to long hot lazy days in the deep south before every building was air conditioned such attention detail right down to the Jesus fans they waved in church awesome flick. You FEEL the heat, the tension, the pain, the injustice of the time but still you laugh with them even as you cry for them - both races - ignorance is to be wept over.
However, I think this movie does more, goes further in its exploration of the behavior of the privileged during that time. They were rabid toward blacks but were not that much better toward anyone who did not share their socio-economic status (the way the "Junior League" treated Celia) and the enormous peer pressure they put on one another (the club encouraging Skeeter's mother to make a poor decision). It visits the sins of the parents passed on to their children the bigotry and injustice that is learned at the knee of our elders. OMG it is just an awesome, poignant, moving, NOT TO BE MISSED film.
Mesmerizing from start to finish never once drags just an easy easy easy 10
I grew up in the 60's, the setting for The Help, a story of Southern
prejudice and cruelty toward African Americans, who were chattel of the
Southern rich treating their servants as expendable and marginal. I can
say that as a Northerner with a black maid for our household, there was
love but always a barrier, a carryover from the strict separation still
prevailing after reconstruction.
Director Tate Taylor keeps the race relations taut but not strident, as if we were living through the emerging civil rights movement slowly but inevitably aimed at equality, not "separate but equal." Skeeter (Emma Stone) graduates, returns to Jackson, Miss., and decides to write about the black help, whose "perspective' needs to be told. As more maids join in the writing of the manuscript, the more possible it is to counter the assassination of Medgar Evers and eventually that of Martin Luther King.
While we have grown used to the base scatological humor of the Hangovers, Change-UP, and other rom-coms, the fundament motif in The Help is as low-key as will ever be depicted in film. Not only is the idea of the bad guys "eating st" effective, it is funny and poignant.
A note about the performancesBryce Dallas Howard as the conservative, prejudiced Hilly, is remarkably successful, making her a full-fledged actress and not just a famous director's daughter. Jessica Chastain as the ditzy but big-hearted Celia Foote cements her place as a great modern actress following her memorable role as the compliant wife in Tree of Life. Emma Stone no longer need rely on rom-coms, for she stars in The Help with a performance nuanced and underplayed, just the way I like it, albeit a bit too hip for the times.
Although the film tends toward the simplistic, e.g., there are no bad blacks and most whites are obtuse, Viola Davis as maid Aibileen Clark successfully carries the film displaying the ambivalent nature of slavery ready to burst out of its chains.
Lovely performances makes this far too clean and neat story, not merely palatable but enjoyable. We know by now that the plight of the "colored" in the South wasn't that clean cut or gentle in any way or shape. Here we can sit and watch discovering the depth of he ordeal in the wonderful face of Viola Davis. But, it all remains in the mild margins of the real story. Entertaining yes but I couldn't forget documentaries of the period or "The Long Walk Home" with Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek. Sissy Spacek is in "The Help" too and she's very funny. It also shows Bryce Dallas Howard under a new light. The bitchy, almost evil light. She's better here than she's ever been. Emma Stone is lovely and the wonderful Allison Janney in a disturbingly recognizable character raises the film to unexpected levels. I felt the film was too long and too careful not to offend anybody and that's were its weaknesses lay. But, I do recommend it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I went and saw The Help last night.
I must say, I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn't as offensive as "The Blind Side" (ala the big overgrown, illiterate, strong as an ox, loyal, gullible, clown saved by a white Christian savior caricature) but the overall story was pretty watered down.
The acting is solid, but I was torn about this movie. It does elicit the "Great White Hope" character, in that the maids only come together through the unlikely liberalism and goodness of a young white character. Its message for the future is also disturbing. For example, toward the end, one maid is offered salvation by a white couple who offers her the security of being their maid for the REST OF HER LIFE...a deal that makes her eyes grow wide with happiness. Meanwhile, the main white character goes off to greener pastures outside the limitations of her town.
There are also some unsettling caricatures...like a "Mammy" figure who gets misty eyed when she talks about how frying chicken makes her feel good inside.
I think they were pretty spot on in the portrayal of the white "southern belles (given that I'm from Jackson myself)." They were mostly ridiculous, petty and cold...which, to my understanding, is how they really were. It makes for some good comedic moments.
This is a "safe" film...there's no violence, and the threat of violence doesn't feel very immediate or nearby. The racism of the day feels like an omniscient boogey-man...and the white men in the film are all portrayed in an indifferent "they could care less" light...which seems VERY unbelievable. And the Black men were either abusive, docile or messengers...I mean, not a single, strong Black man?
The real sad thing about this film is what it says about Black progress in Hollywood. I haven't seen "real" roles for black women this year...and it's telling that the project that employs the most black women at once is one where they all have to play maids. Even in a trailer shown before this film for "Tower Heist," Gabourey Sidibe (from "Precious") is playing a maid...complemented by Eddie Murphy playing a convict with expert knowledge on robberies. So, blacks are either subservient, criminals, comedic clowns...or the ever present "token black friend." The exception to this rule are the few Blacks that are seen as being "negro-lite"...e.g. Will Smith, Halle Berry and Beyonce.
Many whites don't understand why Blacks are sensitive to their portrayals on film...but whites have to realize...you have an abundance of images to choose from. However, we have very few. Imagine taking your children to the movies...and the people that look like them, on screen, are usually stupefied, marginalized, subservient or comedic to the point of buffoorney. That's not the reality whites EVER have to accept, adapt to or address. This is not playing the race card...as there is no card to play when this is your life.
My grandmother was a maid, like these women in the film. She went to work every day for the local car dealer's family...doing housework, cooking their meals and taking care of their kids for $5/day. She supplemented her income ironing white people's clothes from town. She raised 10 kids and helped with the war effort at home. While a film like "The Help" gives her a voice, it also robs her of hope that things will get better. After all, one maid quits her job even though her options are extremely limited and she has jeopardized her own safety by helping Skeeter...the other maid accepts a position to be the lifetime maid of another couple and then leaves her abusive husband...and the third maid that we come to know is rotting in jail. The only people who make out with better futures are the white characters....Skeeter is off to New York. Celia learns how to cook and, through the "wisdom" of her maid, learns how to communicate with her husband and develops self worth. The young white child Viola was raising may get a "fighting chance" because Viola tells her mother to give her one. And Hilly may actually become a better person who's finally learned the error of her ways.
Finally, there is one part that really summarized this whole film to me. At one point, Skeeter is sitting at Viola Davis's table. She asks her if she ever wanted to do anything else rather than be a maid. Viola Davis nods...and Skeeter never follows up with her to ask her what she wanted to do. My feeling was she didn't ask because it was irrelevant...irrelevant to the story and to the reality of the time. Black women didn't have choices, so there was no reason to speak of dreams that they both knew were empty.
All in all, I think this film is a nice effort for what it was, and fluff for what it was not.
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