Movie Review: THE HELP
The Help, adapted from the popular novel by Kathryn Stockett, turns an important era of history that should never be forgotten into something that is both accessible and easy to like. Telling the story of a young Mississippi journalist in the 1960s who writes a book from the perspective of black maids, it approaches the subjects of racial segregation and civil rights with a warmth, humor and color that will hopefully make it a multiplex smash. Usually, these are topics that spell disaster for any film at the box office – sadly, it seems that no one wants to be reminded of such a sad era of American history – but The Help’s major success is that it makes them so accessible.
Nonetheless, though it’s a film made for the masses, it still manages to capture just how awful the era was for black female maids, who were often the backbone of white families yet refused decent pay, basic amenities and human rights.
But while it should be commended for adapting a tough subject matter into something that will be easily digested by a wide audience, The Help often finds itself caught up in its own self-importance. In its emotional moments, Tate Taylor, who both wrote and directed the big screen adaptation, tries so hard to make the film a tearjerker that the scenes stick out like a sore thumb. While, similarly, in the film’s most significant moments of racial discrimination, it’s not enough to let the scenes speak for themselves with any subtlety and nuance substituted for grand romantic gestures and dramatic music.
Furthermore, at a grueling two and a half hours long, The Help is far too long. Especially in the last act, in which you’d expect the drama to ramp up but instead it relies too heavily on the comedy, it almost feels as if Tate Taylor is confused as to how he should wrap up the movie. Equally, there are moments of the script – such as a romance between our hero Skeeter and a young oil rig worker – that appear to be thrown in with less consideration of whether they serve a purpose than whether they appeal to a mainstream audience.
Skeeter, however, is a perfect role for upcoming star Emma Stone who demonstrates why she is such a hotly tipped young actress. Her strong, independent personality shines through the role and she is just so likeable that you side with her character right from the second she appears on screen. Viola Davis, however, in the supporting role of maid Abilene Clark, steals the show as she did in Doubt with vulnerability, fear and, as the film progresses, inner strength that makes elevates her far above the ensemble surrounding her.
A great reminder of an era of American history that many choose not to remember, The Help does a brilliant job of bringing the trauma of pre-civil rights racism to the big screen in a way that is easy for the masses to digest. Nevertheless, its overpowering melodrama, muddled last act and patience-testing length mean it doesn’t quite wipe the floor with the rest of this summer’s blockbusters.