Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Help Movie Review

I enjoy watching movies of simpler times, and of romanticized decades of the early-to-mid-1900s. Occasionally I let myself daydream of living in such times. Then I see a movie like The Help (2011) which makes me realize that these “simpler times” were rife with their own sets of problems. These problems are often downplayed or even ignored in movies for the sake of depicting a sense of nostalgia.
During Civil Rights era Mississippi, Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan (Emma Stone) is a southern society girl who returns from college determined to become a writer. She gets a job writing a cleaning column for her home town’s newspaper, and seeks the advice from one of the local African-American maids. Between observing how the wealthy white families treat their hired help and being told that the nanny who basically raised Skeeter spontaneously moved to Chicago without notice, Skeeter sets out to write a book about the perspective of the black maids and nannies that are so obviously mistreated. She gains the trust of Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) and later Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), a nanny and a maid respectively, and sets about anonymously writing their stories and opinions about working for white people. Skeeter’s perspective on things change and before the story is even sent to the publishers, the whole town has a thing or two to say as they become unwittingly, even unwillingly, caught up in the changing times. The town’s racist, snooty social ringleader Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) is bent on stopping the stories from becoming public knowledge for the sake of her own reputation and to keep the hired help where she believes their place is.
I’ve reviewed a couple of movies that are set in the 1960’s; Hairspray and X-Men: First Class both depict a fun and exciting vision of the 1960’s. Even Panic in Year Zero had an innocent, Leave It to Beaver sort of quality to it. On one hand, The Help reminds us of the civil rights movement as well as the gross inequality and injustice that were prevalent in the day. But on the other hand, The Help also seems to downplay the pain and widespread suffering of the day, similar to how Hairspray did. The Help is a story about pain, but it seems to avoid actually being painful. Really, we don’t typically go to the movies to see abrasive truths, we like feel-good movies. The Help certainly is a feel good movie with intermittent moments of uncomfortable reality. Still, it takes place in racially segregated Mississippi.
The feel-good quality of The Help doesn’t make it a bad movie, though. It’s well written, and very well acted! The characters were either generic or unique. Hilly isn’t very different from Hairspray’s Velma Von Tussle, and Skeeter is another single girl trying to make it big just like CoyoteUgly’s Violet Sanford. Where the movie really shines is in Aibileen and Minny’s characters. I can’t think of another character that is as downtrodden in quiet sorrow and still shows genuine love for the children under her care like Aibileen. I also can’t think of another character that is as amusingly vindictive and even vengeful towards her own oppressors while still trying to help and teach them the way Minny is. Both Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer stole the show in any scene they happened to be in. They were great!
I couldn’t help but get caught up in the story and become invested in the characters. It was well written and well acted. The sets and costumes were spot on. There was a brief scene in a grocery store. Even it looked like it was taken out of the 1960’s with all the products in 60’s style packaging and everything illuminated with a dull glow from the halogen fixtures above. There was lots of loving detail that went into The Help.
Even though it was a lengthy film at two hours and twenty six minutes, it’s still good. There are some shocking scenes, some funny scenes, touching scenes, and sad scenes. The movie isn’t going to appeal to everyone. You probably won’t enjoy it if you don’t like dramas in general. In spite of good intentions, I felt like some of the characters had subtle bits of racial stereotyping woven in from time to time. It’s subtle, so I didn’t find it terribly offensive. At any rate, I enjoyed The Help. It’s worth seeing if you don’t mind long drama films. It may even be worth buying a copy of should you find it to be entertaining enough. I might do that.

What's your favorite historical movie? Not necessarily a drama; X-Men: First Class was an action movie, after all. Comment below and tell me why!

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