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I knew not much when the movie first came to the cinemas, but after seeing the trailer I was intrigued. I expected something a little less serious, but if the movie was in any way different than it is, it wouldn't be this good. The story is extremely difficult emotionally. It deals with a problem that was an issue not so long ago, and I believe that is what makes it so powerful. People who took care of their children, them, their entire lives were treated, by them, like slaves. No respect, no consideration for their feelings, their problems. I was actually considering leaving the cinema after 40 min because I got so enraged by how those women were treated I could barely stand it. Why was that so? Primarily, the acting. Every character in this movie was played to the point of perfection. Bryce Dallas Howard and Viola Davis were astonishing. One can feel nothing but hate for Hilly, and nothing but sorrow and love for Aibileen. Another staggering performance was the one by Jessica Chastain. I found myself wanting to jump into the movie and just hug that woman's character through and through. Such cuteness I have never seen! The only minor problem is Emma Stone who got a little lost in the sea of these marvelous performances. All of the above named characters simply "ate" her on the screen. One more name worth mentioning is Octavia Spencer. She was my favorite character. Strong and powerful, but also extremely gentle and frightened. As is presented, the movie's leading characters are women. Another thing that deserves an absolute A+ is the contrast of the exterior space and the interior of the people. The hairspray generation, the houses filled with thousand of colors and at the same time such dark and evil personalities. See this movie and take everyone you know to see it. It is powerful, staggering, at times hilarious, and it has a beautiful message. This movie will bring out the best of you, and surely bring out emotions.
Have I ever seen a movie in which males mattered less, apart from
feminist/lesbian niche products like "Better Than Chocolate"? When I
read Kathryn Stockett's book I thought that its description of an
all-female world would thwart its straightforward conversion into a
screenplay. I was mistaken. In fact, the males in the book were still
slightly more prominent, especially Minnie's abusive husband Leroy. In
the film, he is never seen at all, although to some extent he remains a
menacing presence. And the senator in the book, an old Southerner who
to the dismay of some of his guests suggests that the days of Jim Crow
are over, is completely omitted.
Leroy's absence obviously softens the film. Same goes for the rewriting of the character of Mrs. Phelan; her "conversion" to post-segregation mores makes her more likable for today's audiences (Klansmen apart). These changes turn the film into a typical feel-good movie. I think it will stand the test of time, both in itself and as a adaptation of a novel; whether critics will come to like it one day is a different matter.
On a different note, if you are a foreign speaker and naturalized Midwesterner, you will have some trouble understanding the black slang and even the speech of some of the white characters.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When I was invited to a preview screening of The Help, I was unsure of
what to expect. This may be easier to understand when one takes into
consideration that Walt Disney Studios are responsible for the
distribution of a film that is targeted at the older woman, the single
hardest demographic to coax into cinema screens presently. Having read
the book, (read review here) I knew the director had a lot to prove. As
a fan I was wary yet excited at the evolution of this great book and
the reception it's had worldwide. It is an unfortunate truth that
Hollywood rarely makes the most of the projects it gets it's hands on,
in terms of quality at least thus, the concern for an international
bestseller making its way into the lap of Disney is an obvious worry.
However, I was pleasantly surprised. The film is a well-constructed piece that remains loyal to Stockett's text and demonstrates the fear, discrimination and seething hatred that seems to have been so apparent during the 1960′s of KKK riddled Jackson, Mississippi in a clear and poignant way. In contrast to other reviewers critiques, I did not find the film overly sentimental or sappy by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, Tate Taylor is to be credited for the realism he has managed to instill in the direction and in the screenplay, which he adopted from Stockett's text. For me, there were several outstanding performances, especially Octavia Spencer as outspoken Minny Jackson, the maid who rises above her many unfortunate choices in employer.
Bryce Dallas Howard is perfection as the evil, scheming Hilly Holbrook and Emma Stone as the well meaning Skeeter Phelan is wonderful to watch. Viola Davis is also excellent and brings to Aibileen's character the dignity and honour that Stockett communicates in the book. As to be expected in a film dealing with racism and segregation, there is much drama and disturbance but, unlike similar genres of film such as Mississippi Burning, there are many comedic moments that create equilibrium. Sissy Spacek makes a long awaited return to the screen in a hilarious and fitting performance as Hilly's dotty mother, providing the right balance of light- heartedness to an otherwise serious and very real subject matter.
Scenes to watch out for are Minny's famous pie scene from the book (readers will know exactly what I mean!), the 'camodes rather than the coats' scene and the glitzy reception scene which mirrors the false identity of all of Skeeter's white associates. Overall, the film is one of the best of 2011 so far and hopefully will serve to further the book's reputation. Well worth seeing I give it an 8/10.
All Rights Reserved © Copyright 2011 Michelle Lacey (Michelle Ní Láitheása).
In 1963, a young journalist and aspiring novelist returns to her
hometown, Jackson, Mississippi, at a time when the civil rights
movement is gaining momentum. Her job on the Jackson Journal writing
a column on house cleaning tips leads her into contact with the
experts: black women who are the nannies, cooks and housekeepers for
rich white folk. Thus begins an unlikely alliance that exposes the
indignities suffered by black maids at the hands of Southern belles who
ironically spend their idle moments raising money for African
charities. The ultimate revenge of the maids is both funny and gross.
The movie evokes many emotions; laughter, tears, anger and perhaps even
shame. There are wonderful performances by the maids, Octavia Spencer
and Viola Davis, who surely must be in the running for Oscar
The book on which the movie is based is pure fiction but the interspersing of historical facts the murder of a civil rights campaigner and the assassination of President Kennedy create the feel of a true story. The excesses of the era, from Ford Thunderbirds to the women's dresses and hairstyles, are authentically depicted. And there are real parallels between the fictional novelist (Skeeter Phelan played by Emma Stone) and the book's author, Kathryn Stockett, who was born in Jackson, raised by a black nanny, and who struggled to get her first novel published.
The movie can also be viewed as a social commentary on the times. As such, it has been criticized for its stereotypes, caricatures, hyperbole, even racism. Such a criticism would be valid for a documentary but not for a work of fiction. Perhaps the criticism is an indication that the topic can still hit a raw nerve.
While "The Help" has received TONS of great press and a ton of SAG and
other awards, I am also aware that there is some controversy concerning
the film. Some people have felt that the film was a bit
paternalistic--as it might be interpreted as yet another story of a
rich, enlightened white lady going out to help all the downtrodden
black folk. I am just not sure if I could see this or not--especially
as the black women in the film end up showing LOTS of strength during
the course of the film. BUT, I am also a white guy--and it's not fair
for me to automatically brand the film one way or another. Just be
aware that there are a few who resent the idea of this film.
I could discuss the plot, but LOTS of other reviewers have discussed this. So instead, let's talk about what I liked and didn't like. I liked the acting. The problem, however, is that giving any of these actresses awards is tough as it's such an ensemble cast. I can truly understand why the Screen Actor's Guild chose to award ALL the cast a joint award. The direction was very nice and the movie was well filmed. The script was also very nice--and quite inspiring. My quibbles are VERY small---very, very small. I felt that a few characters were a bit one-dimensional (particularly the lead villainess). Also, the ending of the film seemed to drag out a bit and wrapping it up a bit sooner. It wasn't a bad ending--but tightening would have heightened the overall emotional impact.
So my advice for you is to see this film. While I still think "Hugo" is the best nominated film this year, I can see the merit in "The Help" winning and "The Artist" sure seems to have a lot of momentum. So, do yourself a favor and see all three--all three are terrific.
Yesterday, I had a 3 hour break in-between classes, and a free movie on my AMC Stubbs card, so I went to the movies. Unbelievably the only thing playing at my time was one of the movies I didn't want to see, The Help. Isn't it funny how the movie you never want to see always turns out to be great? The Help is based on a book by the same title, and follows a young writer, in the mid 1960s, looking for an idea. At a party, she notices how horrible people are to the African American help and decides to write their story. Of course it's a scandalous idea that can get them all killed, but Skeeter finds one woman brave enough to tell her story. This movie is funny, heartwarming, and inspirational, not to mention the acting is top notch. Viola Davis deserves an Oscar nomination for her performance, which is one of the strongest I've seen all year. The Help is an amazing story, with a terrific cast, and a big upside. It has a unique and inspiring story that takes us back to a very tumultuous time in American History, and I can't recommend it enough!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) has spent 4 years doing her degree in the
North before returning to 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, where her eyes
are opened to the unconscious prejudice which is constantly directed
towards the black domestic staff by the over-privileged housewives of
the area. Skeeter determines to collect the personal recollections of
the domestic maids for publication as a small step towards righting
Let's get something straight - I am an ageing white man from rural England so, apart from having grown up through these times, I have nothing in common with any of these people. I am, however, a human being and this is, above all, a story about human beings and how they show - or don't show - their humanity towards each other. I have not read the book on which this film is based.
Like The King's Speech, The Help is not just a worthy film, it is also an entertaining one. The characters are all engaging and rounded people, and are all well played. The film is frequently moving and, more frequently, very funny. The period is nicely evoked.
Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer have been singled out for praise for their performances as the two domestics who are first to tell their stories: for me, however, I most enjoyed Jessica Chastain's performance as a bimbo who is not as empty-headed as she at first appears. Her performance was funny, emotional, and haunting, and vastly different to her performances in The Debt and Texas Killing Fields. Bryce Dallas Howard's monstrous queen bee was both funny and chilling. In truth, all the principals had their moments.
The film is not perfect. It is a touch too long, and what it says is, at this distance in time, something of a given. However, it says it well, and entertainingly, and if it changes one person's point of view - for there are still plenty of people out there who match the types here - then it will have done a good job.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Help is a very entertaining movie about how a group of strong women
make a minor dent in the injustice of segregation. As a movie, it does
a serviceable job, but as history it comes up a little short. Here is a
movie that contains a lot of fine performances and some nice moments,
but seems to dance around the uglier side of The Civil Rights movement.
By the end, the problems of the main characters seem to have come to a
fitting, non-violent conclusion. Yet, the real-life history of this
conflict would be written in blood.
Based on the book by Kathryn Stockett (which I haven't read), the story takes place in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s which, at the time, was run by the brass-bound segregationist Governor Ross Barnett, who had the support of The White Citizen's Council that was determined to keep the black population in its place. In social standing, blacks are subservient to whites and the plight of black women in the work world is cleaning the houses of white families. They clean house and raising the children while the white women fuss about their looks and their social status.
The focus of the film begins with a young idealist, Eungenia "Skeeter" Phelan (Emma Stone), who has returned home from college to find that the maid who raised her from birth is no longer working there for reasons that her parents refuse to explain. Skeeter becomes curious about the woman who work in her home and in many homes in the south. "Who is taking care of their children while they are taking care of ours?", she wonders.
The focus gradually drifts to some of the maids, mainly Abileen Clark (Viola Davis), a quietly wounded soul who lost her son, and Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), an open-faced, boisterous woman whose frustration at being treated like trash by her hateful employer (Bryce Dallas Howard) is quickly coming to a boiling point.
Skeeter aspires to be a writer and has an offer from a New York publisher (Mary Steenburgen) to write a book of personal accounts from the point of view of southern maids (all anonymous, of course) exposing what it is like to work in the houses of white folks, raising their children and cleaning their toilets. This is an unwise proposition given the climate of the times. The white population of Mississippi is determined to stop the progression of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement and that has black women over a barrel. The maids around town want nothing to do with the project: they need work and cleaning houses remains the only work available to them. At first, the only two women willing to participate are Minny and Abileen, but slowly the numbers begin to grow.
What I liked about The Help is the manner in which it paints the black women as individual characters, especially Minny and Abileen. They both have separate and distinct personalities and both have different agendas. They don't just stand as static, noble props for the movie to lean on. Abileen's fury over her son becomes her motivation for getting involved with Skeeter's book and Minny's fury over being treated less-than-human by her employer becomes hers.
The pure emotional heart of the movie is felt by the presence of actress Viola Davis, a wonderful actress that I've been watching with joy for years in films like Doubt (for which she got her first Oscar nomination), Eat Pray Love and last year's forgotten gem Trust. Here, as Abileen, she plays a grieving mother who's quiet frustration over the loss of her son is felt in her very presence. There is a moment deep in the film when she sits at her kitchen table and describes to Skeeter the carelessness of her son's on-the-job accident. There is something in her eyes, in her voice, and in her body language that speaks to the wound deep in her heart. You can feel the fury of this grieving mother. This is a moment, I think, that will get her an Oscar nomination this year. She gives the film's best performance.
There is one character, I'm afraid, that doesn't work at all. That is the one played by Bryce Dallas Howard - Ron's daughter - who occupies the role of Hilly Holbrook, Minny's pathologically racist employer, who is so full of unmerciful venom that it washes over into cliché. She wants a legislation passed that would forbid the maids from using the same bathroom facilities as their employers. This was a real issue at the time, but the movie plays it as an overwrought plot device designed to climax with a moment in which she eats one of Minny's pies, laced with a particularly disgusting ingredient (read this paragraph again carefully and you can probably deduce what it is). It is a moment that might fit in American Pie or There's Something About Mary but seems wrong-headed in a movie about the Civil Right's Movement. I was hoping that some humanity would come to Hilly with the revelation of a past connection with Celia, but sadly, it never does.
I think that The Help is a good movie, a movie with some important things to say and some performances that could turn it into a great movie, rather than just a good one. It is entertaining, but it is also kind of safe. It dances around the uglier sides of life in Mississippi under segregation and comes to an ending that closes the book on the characters with a lot of victories. We never sense that the struggle has just begun.
Just watched this very compellingly historical drama with my movie theatre-working friend who seen it twice before. We both enjoyed this fictional account of many of the African-American female maids and their stories they tell to an aspiring author named Skeeter (Emma Stone). Among those female servants, Abileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer) provide the most interesting of their trials of working for their employers. The most mean of the white employers is one Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) who gets most of her comeuppance in the most dirty ways one can imagine. Then, on the other side of the tracks is Celia (Jessica Chastain) who somehow becomes Minny's savior and vice versa. There's also good supporting turns from Sissy Spacek, Cicely Tyson, Mary Steenburgen and especially Allison Janney. Since I haven't read the book, I'm sure there are some details I haven't been privy to that I'm sure might have made this movie even more compelling. But what I've seen is good enough for me to highly recommend The Help.
There are many stories in our sordid and sorry history that deserve
reverence and a delicate hand when talked about. They should all be
told, absolutely, and hopefully learned from, but we must always
remember that how the story is told can influence the listener almost
as much as the story itself. It can be a tightrope walk along the line
between pride and piety and you want to be careful which side it falls
The Help is set in Jackson, Mississippi during the central part of the civil rights movement. A young white woman named Skeeter wants to write something real, something special and she finds it in the socialized and institutionalized mistreatment of the African-American hired help. She ventures to gain their trust and their stories in a dangerous effort to give a voice to the silent underbelly of high Southern society.
This film has been #1 at the box office for three weeks and already is a huge success for the studios. It marches along each weekend as the little movie that could. Some will credit that to the original book already being a best-seller, but we've seen plenty of best-seller adaptations that fizzle sadly on the big screen. Even a well-told story needs excellent execution in order to swing a whole new audience and The Help is boiling over with just that.
Emma Stone, as the stubborn and righteous Skeeter, delivers her most dramatic turn to date and does not fail to impress. Yet the real power comes from the surrounding cast, packed with outstanding performances ranging from beautifully heart-wrenching to disgustingly evil. Starting with the two maids, shown with touching grace and power by Viola Davis (as Aibileen) and Octavia Spencer (as Minny), these wonderful actresses anchor the film in layers upon layers of honesty and courage. On the complete other side of the spectrum, Bryce Dallas Howard delivers a stunningly devious performance as Hilly Holbrook, the resident alpha Stepford wife, clinging to the old ways and old hatreds, fighting the oncoming social change with each of her pearly white teeth and perfectly french-tipped nails. Her quietly controlled rage reminded me constantly of Glenn Close as Cruella De Vil, such poise built around such poison. Jessica Chastain also did a splendid job as Celia Foote, trying desperately to get acceptance from anyone at all, even if it comes from her maid.
As director, Tate Taylor, tried to softly, but honestly, capture the time and place of 1960s Mississippi. There was tension throughout the movie, keeping the audience wondering when the violence of racism was going to strike, but Taylor always kept it just off screen, tempting the horror without needing to show it up close. He also crafted some wonderfully delicate scenes with the character of Celia, shedding light on yet another part of women's history kept in the dark for far too long.
However, as I mentioned earlier, it is a delicate dance and this story can be seen from the angle of another "white person ends racism" story, but I feel that would be shortchanging the core of the story. Stone's character doesn't free the maids from servitude, she just gives them a voice, an outlet which was up to that point held far out of reach.
One of the few things I found unnecessary was Stone's boyfriend Stuart (played by Chris Lowell). Stone feels much more natural and relatable as an gawky outcast, never fitting in with all her married high society friends. The need to show her swing back and forth in the world of troubled relationships just felt like a step too far.
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