As I continue on my Oscar nominee train, I finally stumbled upon “The Help.” My assumption was this would be a bit too predictable of a subject matter. The title speaks volumes, and the time frame is fairly obvious. For the most part the film is predictable and glossy. The real reason to watch “The Help” is the acting. Octavia Spencer, Viola Davis, and Emma Stone makes the film go from a very good piece of work, to Oscar worthy stuff.
The premise involves a slew of talented but extremely different women. We find ourselves in Jackson, Mississippi. It’s the 1960s and racism is alive and well. Emma Stone who plays an aspiring journalist wants to do a piece on “The Help” black women that take care of white families and children all across the region. The Help is treated as you would expect. Few privileges, horrible pay, and even as far as not being allowed to use the same bathroom as the white owners they work for. The film strongly portrays the fact that white families were so disconnected from each other, that “The Help” played the role of mothers for the young white children. Essentially when “The Help” was fired the white child would have a tough time saying goodbye. They saw “The Help” as their mom, or caretaker. These scenes are specifically emotional, because it’s a shame the biological mothers really don’t seem to be connected with their children.
Emma Stone decides to write a detailed piece on “The Help” and get real stories from the group who have never shared such personal stories before. The sales pitch from Stone’s character is for the first time in life “The Help” can finally have a voice. They can describe to the world how they were treated, and how white families lived their lives. Obviously as you would imagine this is a risky proposal, and “The Help” see the potential impact it could have, but also see the short term circumstances it may entail.
What occurs is an interesting story about how “The Help” decide it’s time to step past the boundaries of racism, and show people that they are no different than any other race. They work hard, they are compassionate, yet they are treated like they are meaningless. A group of ladies decide it’s time to break barriers, and decide to do it through a young journalist and her talented writing skills.
The actress that steals the show in this one is by far Viola Davis, who portrays an incredible role of courage, patience, and leadership. Davis who had a brilliant role in “Doubt” with her good friend Meryl Streep, will be going up against her at the Oscars this year. Meryl is nominated for the Iron Lady, and while I think Viola will win this category you can never count out Meryl. Davis plays Aibileen Clark a longtime member of “The Help.” She has taken care of multiple white children, and has seen and heard some foul things said about her and her race. She plays a very patient role, and as a viewer you want to reach out and help her so bad. But as each day passes, Aibileen keeps her cool, and realizes it’s just the way things are. As I mentioned earlier, Viola Davis’ character carries this film to the Oscars.
Emma Stone plays Skeeter Phelan. An aspiring journalist in the 60s, who wants to break the barrier between white women and black women. Skeeter knows that this isn’t a topic that hasn’t been explored before, but what separates her story from the rest is the personal testimonials of “The Help.” Stone who has burst onto the Hollywood scene, pulls of another impressive and versatile performance. If Ryan Gosling is the new male star in Hollywood, I think it’s fair to say Emma Stone is the new female star catching viewers attention. While Emma Stone was not nominated for an Oscar, she did play the role quite well.
Octavia Spencer who plays “The Help” as well, is not only the comedic relief in the film, but is also Aibileen’s best friend and sidekick. Spencer plays Minny Jackson the fiery woman who doesn’t know when to keep her mouth shut. She really is the opposite of Aibileen, no patience, no fear, and isn’t afraid to let her white employer know when she’s angry. As you can imagine it doesn’t favor Minny well, and she goes through all types of ups and downs. I think Octavia Spencer is a lock for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars, and rightfully deserves the win. She adds a completely different dimension to the film, and puts a smile on your face.
Bryce Dallas Howard and Jessica Chastain both do good jobs adding to the superb cast. Howard plays Hilly Holbrook the definition of mean. She shows no respect to “The Help” and hardly takes care of her child. She does a good job making you want to hate her. On the flip side Chastain plays Celia Foote a quirky white woman whose different. She looks at “The Help” as, well, the help! She appreciates what they do, and just wants to learn how to be a good housewife. She wants to learn to cook, clean, be responsible for a child. Chastain’s role has been nominated for a Best Supporting Actress nod, but I doubt she beats her costar Octavia Spencer.
Allison Janney does a good job being consistent in her roles. Janney plays Skeeter’s mom Charlotte Phelan, and has some powerful scenes in the film. The film has numerous actors who play shorter roles, but all have done a great job.
The Help is a fiction based film, but we don’t get films like this anymore. In this day and age, action, animation, comedy, and modern day drama dominates the box office. The Help brings a glossy old school look to a fascinating story. While it’s far from perfect, and sometimes just way too sentimental, it carries some of the best acting we have seen in 2011. The film plays out like a fairy tale journey, but what’s wrong with that? Overall it’s worth the watch, and is one of the more uniquely written films in 2011.
My 1-10 scale= 8