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The Help is one of the many films that's set in the 60s that deals with
themes like prejudice and racism involving segregation amongst the
Whites and the African Americans in Jackson, Mississippi, but having
the very same themes also being relevant in society today even here in
Singapore especially, with recent talk and focus on the issue of
domestic help and our attitudes toward household maids that many employ
for various reasons, who assist in looking after the children and the
elderly, as well as to keep home while the rest of the adults are neck
deep in economic pursuits. While racism is generally kept under control
here, there are niggling incidents that pop up every now and then, so
clearly we're not off the hook and there will always be individuals who
Granted that racism back then was more pronounced especially during that era put on film, the story's based on an international bestseller written by Kathryn Stockett, and over here we're bound to identify with the issues highlighted especially in the horror stories you'd hear with regards to the treatment of domestic help, with abuse cases that make you sit up and wonder why we are capable of such inhumane acts. And the worst of all involves being hypocritical, putting on a false front for society, while clearly behaving like the devil when behind closed doors. The bottom line is, we're all humans and we share similar hopes and dreams whatever our skin colour, language and where we're from, in desiring a comfortable life filled with love, with a roof over our heads, food and community, friends and family we can turn to in times of need.
Which is why this film has themes and a poignant, thought provoking narrative that screams relevance, especially for those closeted intolerant few who must watch this, and reflect. Emma Stone stars as Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, an aspiring journalist who has returned home only to find out that the group of peers she had grown up with, are leading a lifestyle of superficial leisure, saying a lot of things, but meaning nothing. And for all their cliquish behaviour in cruelly treating one of their own as a social outcast (Jessica Chastain from The Tree of Life), for an ulterior reason only Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) knows, what more their household maids who have to slog with the chores, be that surrogate mother to their kids, be at their beck and call, and being given attitude, stick, and threats of the sack?
Given the tension all round during the time, it's no wonder that Skeeter's plans to want to highlight The Help's predicament and provide them with a voice, no doubt also serving as a ticket for her journalistic ambitions to embark on a career in New York, all met with stone walled silence, until Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) decided that enough is enough, and begin opening up to Skeeter as research material, becoming her insights and perspective on how the African American help get treated in White households. And besides Aibileen's point of view, her friend Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) also chipped in, and both represent the broad spectrum of heartfelt accounts both good and bad, though largely negative, with the tacit understanding with Skeeter that they are not to be referred to directly.
It's one of those powerful films that takes the ugly side of humanity and presents it to us face on, to confront how cruel some of us can be, and what the strong amongst us must do to act and help those who are weak or bullied. Director Tate Taylor, who also wrote the screenplay, focuses on the tales crafted around the households both Aibileen and Minny serve, from being treated like dirt to forming firm friendships with some of the people they know and serve, such as Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain), as a reminder on how we should never judge a book by its cover, being obviously relevant when one gets handed one's fate for being of a certain skin colour. You may think that this may be a heavy film with all its seriousness, but trust me there is enough light hearted, even heart warming moments scattered throughout, though counter-balanced with moments of fear that will make you worry for the characters since mob mentality can lead to anything.
Emma Stone normally plays kooky characters of late, so this was perfect opportunity for her to shine in more serious drama which she does adequately. But she got upstaged by both Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, the former who brought a certain quiet dignity to her role which just calls for respect, and the latter being the comic relief as a really straight-talker, and whose story was probably the most touching in the film, with one of the funniest, running gag in the later half. Bryce Dallas Howard also owned her role as the antagonist Hilly in the film, and if you'd think she's only capable of goody two shoes roles, think again as she can convincingly play back-stabbers, with Sissy Spacek in a supporting role as Hilly's mom.
The Help reminds us of how one has to have Fear and Courage to addresses changes in community or the larger society we serve in, without which we would all be poorer for it. It may be almost 2 1/2 hours long, but it's every minute worth it just watching how an uphill battle was fought, and baby steps being taken each time to overcome obstacles placed in the characters' way. It's guaranteed that you'll laugh and you'll cry in the film thanks to its material, and it's firmly one of the contenders to be amongst my favourite films of this year. Highly recommended!
This is a hard film to adequately review, because so much is right with
it, yet at the same time so much is wrong. Or if not "wrong," at least
there are some major tones that simply did not work for me.
The cast is spectacular. Emma Stone is not just adorable, but a skilled and marvelous actor. You don't need me to remark that she has a stellar career ahead of her. The rest of the cast includes some of those great character actors you see in the better films, but can't quite remember where you've seen them before. but that's a plus for a character actor, as their appearances, therefore, always seems fresh.
It feels very awkward for me to mention the tone that felt wrong. The abuse and inhumane treatment endured by black people 50 years ago is hard to watch today. The pain inflicted, and the behavior of the oppressors can only be called an "evil" situation. One hopes that evolution has done its work, and social justice prevails today. If not perfectly, then at least to a tolerable degree.
But that is part of the problem, to me. This film seems to merely recycle old tropes of injustice. It seems to be, as one of my professors used to call it, a "pot stirrer." Lots of agitation and angst and shame and sympathy just for the sake of chaos--- but here it doesn't seem to be authentic. It certainly doesn't seem to go anywhere. It's almost as if the writer has taken an easy issue guaranteed to provoke outrage and anger, rather than doing the authentic, and difficult, artistic work necessary to invoke compassion and healing. This film might be, to be blunt, merely counterfeit social justice. It might be a brazen attempt to "push buttons" for undeserved sympathy. I sincerely hope I am mistaken, and overly unkind.
Granted, that's a subtle point. But that's also why I found the theme of the film a bit objectionable- it seemed as if the filmmakers were taking advantage of most people's natural and gut-level decency to elicit an audience response on a tabloid level.
Further, who would DARE to criticize this film? It's almost as if it were "criticism proof." Therefore unsound dramatic treatments will go by without comment. Given that I think that was done deliberately, even if somewhat unconsciously, this movie takes an honorable and lofty struggle for which many people suffered and even died, and shamelessly exploits that to make a few bucks at the box office. Think about it- what insights or "new" themes were introduced here? I'd say none. It may be an example of what Plato called "pandering," going for the cheap points via a stimulus-response fest.
I hope I am wrong- I hope it is really just a matter of me not responding to this particular cinematic venture. If I am even partly right, however, it bodes ill for our modern shallow and thoughtless "junk media" environment.
In Jackson, Mississippi, in the 60's, the aspirant writer Skeeter
Phelan (Emma Stone) has just graduated and returns home after finding a
job writing in a futile newspaper column in the local newspaper. When
she arrives home, she finds that her nanny and family's maid
Constantine Jefferson (Cicely Tyson) is gone.
Skeeter sees the chance of writing a book about the relationship of the black maids with the Southern society for an editor from New York. First she convinces Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) to open her heart to her; then Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) is unfairly fired by the arrogant Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is a leader in the racist high society, and Minny decides to tell her stories after finding a job with the outcast Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain). Soon eleven other maids accept to be interviewed by Skeeter that also tells the truth about Constantine. When the book "The Help" is released, Jackson's high society will never be the same.
"The Help" is an unforgettable movie about a forgettable time in the history of the United States of America. The engaging story is supported by magnificent performances and the viewer does not feel the 146 minutes running time. The performances of Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain are top-notch and all of them deserved at least nomination to the Oscar and major film festivals. The direction is tight and art direction is very realistic. My vote is nine.
Title (Brazil): "Histórias Cruzadas" ("Entwined Stories")
"You is kind. You is smart. You is important" is the mantra that "You
is kind. You is smart. You is important" is the mantra that Abileen
Clark (Viola Davis), a domestic worker in Jackson, Mississippi in the
1960ies, uses to comfort and empower her employer's daughter. Neglected
by a mother who finds her too chubby and cumbersome, and a constantly
absent father, Abileen is the only caring adult in the girl's life, the
one who's there for her through real and metaphorical storms.
Based on the bestseller by the same name written by Kathryn Stocket in 2009, the movie version of The Help, directed by Tate Taylor, tells the story of the young aspiring writer Eugenia (nicknamed Skeeter and played by Emma Stone). Skeeter is different from Elizabeth (Ahna O'Reilly), Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) and her other friends who spend their time playing bridge, organising charity events and being snooty. Instead of trying to find a husband, Skeeter's focusing on her career. She also believes that black domestic workers shouldn't be treated as subhumans; a radical view stemming from her relationship with her old nanny Constantine (Cicely Tyson), who raised Skeeter before disappearing without a trace.
After landing a job answering housekeeping questions for a newspaper column, Skeeter, who knows nothing about housework, asks Elizabeth to let her domestic worker Abileen help her. After a short time in Abileen's company, Skeeter realises that life as a black domestic worker isn't all rosy, and the idea is born to collect the stories of all the invisible hardworking black women surrounding her and her friends and write a book. Initially reluctant Abileen eventually succumbs and convinces her friend Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), an outspoken lady who has just been fired by Hilly to help Skeeter realize her dream. As the film progresses the audience is treated to various displays of racist stuck up behaviour, bad parenting, loyalty and silent resistance. "This isn't about me. It doesn't matter what I feel", Skeeter promises early in the film which turns out to be mainly about her, Elizabeth, Hilly and the ostracized housewife Celia (Jessica Chastain).
As New York Press' reviewer Armond White points out the main aim of the film is to entertain, which might explain the lack of engagement with the subject matter at a level that considers the changes that have influenced discussions about race, gender and power in America since the sixties. The approach makes for a dated film that requires the audience to ignore the most important change; that black American women no longer rely on white spokespersons to voice their concerns. Abileen's, Minny's and Constantin's primary function in The Help, a film that does little to challenge traditional racial power dynamics, and translates black agency into steeling and black pride into frying chicken, is simply to help us distinguish good whites from bad, coward and victim whites. The Help is a film that suffers badly from a shallow treatment of a complex subject matter and blatant slapsticky stereotyping (incl. Minny delivering one Chappellesque line about chicken after the other, among them "Frying chicken just makes me feel better about life. I just love me some fried chicken").
The ethos of the film is that of Skeeter; quite radical in the 1960s, less so in 2011. Black underprivileged women playing second fiddle to their white counterparts isn't the problem. It's just a pity that the white women, having forgotten how much they loved their black nannies as children, let the black help raise their children but not use their bathrooms. For someone in tune with this ethos it makes sense that Skeeter is the one who contributes with ambition and skills, and her informants (even if they, like Abileen, also are aspiring writers) with sensational stories about daily humiliation to be turned into literature by Skeeter. To assume, as Skeeter does when finding out what happened to her nanny, that the old woman, who at least until the day she disappeared had a brave and caring daughter by her side (LaChanze), wouldn't survive another minute without Skeeter isn't outrageous given the logical framework of the film, and similarly there's nothing strange about Skeeter's narcissistic reluctance to leave the thirty something informants in the racist town for an attractive job in New York. A concern that reminds me of a that of the man who approaches a group of girlfriends in a bar, asking them what they're doing there all alone.
Different approaches at different times; that's how to make any story relevant at any time. Nothing illustrates this better than the example of The Stepford Wives, the 1974 novel by Ira Levin which was adapted to the big screen in 1975 and 2004, and to TV in 1980, 1987 and 1996. Also dealing with oppressive and reactionary ideals, each version of the original story reflects the time in which it was made, with hypnosis being the tool of domination in the 1980 version, role reversal in 1996, and a woman being the master brain running the show in the 2004 version in which the women have become sex- and cash machines. In response to Taylor's dealing with The Help, nothing feels more appropriate than to conclude in the same non-innovative and slightly offensive manner that characterizes his take on the story:
You is patronising. You is irrelevant. You is out of touch. (This and other movie reviews to be found on the blog "In the Words of Katarina")
I hate this movie. I hate everything about it. As a college educated,
married, faithful Black Man in America I am here to say I'm slave tired
of these "step n' fetch it" roles. These are the kind of depictions
that Hollywood and white America seems to LOVE to see my sons and
daughters emulate. But a film like The Great Debaters gets virtually
ignored. Oh I get it... I'm just tired of it.
The FACT that Black people are - mired in the abyss - of abject poverty, disproportionate incarceration and homicide rates, drug addiction, lack of education and inadequate housing is not fictional entertainment - but REALITY. I understand Black America is not a monolith, but the socioeconomic and sociocultural status of the Black America I speak of is in real trouble. Viola Davis is a fantastic actor but her talent is wasted in The Help. Black Americans need STRONGER and MORE POWERFUL and PROGRESSIVE IMAGES IN FILM!! Hello... The Mammy character is dead. The Uncle Tom character is dead... or should be. Let's move forward.
I'm not sure what Black America you THINK you know, but the Black America I know is one of profound sadness. This is 2012! Not 1960! Have you ever spent anytime at all in an inner city ghetto? Have you ever seen project tenements in Kansas City, MO, Memphis, TN or Atlanta, GA? You've been BAMBOOZLED (a movie that should have won an Oscar) into thinking that all Black Americans are well educated and financially secure. Most Black people aren't lawyers, musicians, rappers or professional athletes. Black men are in fact more likely to be in prison than in college. Why is that?
One of my greatest wishes is for gifted and talented Black actors, directors and producers to pool their intellectual and financial resources, devising ways to create better images and stories for the Black community instead of feeding into a racist Hollywood that does not (and has NEVER) had our best interests at heart.
Be honest with yourself... Hollywood and their corporate sponsors could give a rats ass about the Black community, but they don't mind striping our daughters naked.
Doesn't anyone else see a problem when the only way Black Actors can become so-called "successful" - is when they either sell out in an interracial relationship, have sex with Billy Bob Thornton on screen or sell degrading images of their people as being pimps, drug dealers, whores, gangsters, buffoons and ...maids?
If you have any shred of self-respect you will stay away from not only this movie The Help, but every movie like it. Rent and/or buy Bamboozled and The Great Debaters instead. You'll feel better.
Oddly, I enjoyed the help. it's a strong story well told, beautifully
photographed with exceptional period feel, and is sincerely and
Despite is weighty veneer, it's also patronising and manipulative. I don't know for sure but I'm guessing this movie is made by white folk, with the usual feel-better gloss about a terrible subject.
Leonard Maltin wrote that this film's lone failing was its stereotypes. Certainly Bryce Dallas Howard's Hilly is he most obvious example but really the movie is peppered with stereotypes: the shallow housewife; the modern go-girl (who just happens to be an diamond in the rough, just to emphasise that its what's inside that counts, and that white people have real problems too); the bimbo with a heart; the mother who wishes she had the strength; the oppressed but wise housemaid; the bread-winning husbands that look the other way, and so on and so on.
It might be cathartic for white Americans to make and see films like The Help but really they're not fooling anyone. The Help is shiny and clever, but to me and surely many other non-Americans, its shallow, narcissistic and and unfairly self-congratulatory.
Somewhere there must be a filmmaker and studio that has the balls to tell modern audiences the stories of the real struggle of African Americans against their white oppressors; something that contains a stronger resolution that a swell of pride and a cold sore. I'll take that over this sugar coated Oscar bait thanks.
This stunning film incorporates history, friendship, hate and humour in
a way never done before. Believable characters compliment the strong,
gripping story, and all are played well, demonstrating skilled acting.
The relationships between characters are amazing, and you find yourself relating with the characters as you experience the ones in the film.
You can sit in a cinema watching this film and all at once, laugh, cry and smile, as you stare in awe at this cinematic genius.
I look forward to reading the book in the near future, as I am sure it will be just as good.
Best Picture, here we come!
Look folks, I'm not the one to go watch a movie and then come and write
a review. This is very rare, in fact this is the first time. First of
all, I'm a black middle-aged male living in Australia. I'm not into
that black-white-red-yellow affirmative action, divide or whatever you
call it and I have not experienced that American slavery or racism
history except seeing it presented one-sided or biased on TV.
Now having proclaimed my neutrality above, I will tell you this: this is one powerful movie that will sure touch and move you in one way or another whatever your political lining. The casting, directing and acting are top-of-the-shelf superb A+++. When my wife first told me about it, I said OK whatever. Man was I wrong! I cried and laughed at the same throughout the movie, and I'm a dude and where I come from men are not supposed to show their soft side. All I can say is go see the movie and it will be worth it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Despite a cast of hardworking actors, this dull sudsy goody two shoes comedy drama is shallow and plastic, with neither enough humor, drama nor interest to sustain its two hours of pretty images and one dimensional ninnies. At the core of the comedy is a scene out of Pink Flamingoes that takes center stage when a bitchy southern queen eats a chocolate pie from her maid that has more of her maid than chocolate pudding. UGH. Not my opinion of good taste, this film makes every white woman in the south a bitch and every black woman holier than thou. Where is Michele Bachman's opinion, now that we need her. Yeah, I can see Oscars lining up to the ceiling, but not for a dull script and a waste of two hours. Predictable and trivial. No disrespect to any maid, but this is just sentimental sanctimonious crap.
I had eagerly awaited the movie as the book was an absolute
masterpiece. I was rather disappointed.
My guess is that people who have not read the book will like the movie. It is well acted and makes for a good story -- just a different one from the story written in the book.
One semi major character is changed from a very complicated person -- sympathetic but hardly enlightened or heroic -- to something entirely different -- a converted true believer. Other characters simply become flatter and more "stock" than in the book -- though that may be inevitable when adapting a novel written in three first person voices into a movie.
The main problem with the movie is that it really does not attempt to capture the violence, brutality and fear of the period. In the book these things hang over the characters and there is a real sense of danger. In the movie "danger" is spoken of but hardly palpable. Segregationists (aside from the one villain, Hilly) appear more rude than brutal. As a (white) southern man who lived in that era I know it was a lot tougher than that.
Overall, it is a good movie. If the source material did not exist I'd rate it higher. But being adapted from a much more nuanced and stronger work, it suffers in comparison.
See it. But read the book. And especially take young people to see it who may not be willing to read the book first. Because even glossed over, it does show a side of American history that the younger generation may not fully appreciate. Maybe it will spark discussion and maybe some of them will read the book for a fuller understanding of how things used to be.
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