Film Review: The Help

the_help headerThere is a short list of movie topics that have a tendency to make me a little hesitant to see them, including zero to hero sports movies, revolutionary apes (sorry Rise of the Planet of the Apes), bible huggers, and racism.  Ok, only the religious and racial tension films (or a combo of racism and sports) really put me on edge, but this is just because of the potential to become overly preachy.  If done right then they can be great films, and if you have a soul (unlike Zac based on his review) it will be hard not to enjoy The Help.

The Help is based on a novel of the same name by Kathryn Stockett, and though I cannot tell you how closely the film follows the book (though my mom thought it was a pretty respectful adaptation), I think it is pretty safe to say that the story is the same.  The Help follows a collection of characters in early 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, highlighting the racial tension going strong in this society.  However, it is not all coming from the “white people suck” mentality, providing a variation of characters and personalities across a wide spectrum, an aspect of this film that is deeply appreciated.

Now many of you may be wondering about that dig at Zac earlier (playful, just to clarify).  As fun as it is to rip apart movies together or go on and on about all the great moments from our favorites of the year, I am more than ok with us disagreeing on a movie every once and a while.  However, the one thing that kind of struck me when we were briefly texting about this film was when he called it “white guilt porn.”  Now being born in the late 80s I don’t know a whole lot about white guilt, especially considering the amount of time I have spent loathing my pastiness and cursing its proficiency at burning (yes I do actually understand that that is not actually relevant), and I know an equal amount about porn, so I was far from considering calling The Help anything of the sort.  Yes, it is about the racial tension between whites and blacks in the south, and I am not sure what else would be expected based on the trailer, but it is far from weakening all of the black characters by victimizing, nor does it create only villainous white characters.  Instead each character has his / her own personality, own beliefs, etc, all structured based on the society they were raised in, but still all different.  There are sympathetic white characters who are seen as “lesser than” themselves, characters who seem ahead of their times in their hope for change, strong black characters who have not been broken by the system, those who know something is wrong but don’t want to rock the boat, etc, creating plenty of shades of gray that add layers to the world being created.

Best of all, through all of the dramatic substories the film never loses its knack for humor.  The dialog is witty and there are some hilarious characters, including Octavia Spencer as an outspoken member of “the help,” Jessica Chastain as a boisterous woman who hires Spencer probably just to have a friend around, and Sissy Spacek as a scene stealing old woman who is still capable of remembering enough about her daughter to poke fun at her even though she suffers from dementia.  And there are also plenty of moments to laugh at times past through characters like Bryce Dallas Howard’s “superior” Hilly Holbrook. This is not to say it is all fun and games making light of the subject matter, but it is nice to not be all doom and gloom when the subject is a serious one.  With that said there is still plenty of drama and those mentioned have their fair share of dramatic moments in addition to their comedy, creating a rollercoaster of emotion towards the end because of how sympathetic these characters are, being lead by an amazing performance by Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark.  And finally (not to just tack her on at the end), Emma Stone is able to show that she is more than capable of delivering a great performance of this genre just as well as any of her comedic roles that she is better known for of the past.

Whether you are a fan of the source material or not, The Help is a film that does justice to a period of time in American history without making me feel like a monster for being born white.  It will make you laugh and tear up equally, and the performances alone from this amazing cast make it well worth your time (and based on the reaction of the crowd through laughter, sniffles, and applause, I was with plenty of people who agree with me).

Final Grade: B+     

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