THE HELP (2011)
Running Time: 137 mins. Rating: 4 Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Tate Taylor
Cast: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Ahna O’Reilly, Allison Janney, Anna Camp, Cicely Tyson, Sissy Spacek, Brian Kerwin, Dana Ivey
Oh Law, we gone done it again. Don’t worry, THE HELP doesn’t sing like ‘Oprah.’ Sure, we’re going back in time to 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, but don’t expect a sob story written out with sour tears and pitiful sighs. Unpredictably enough, writer-director Tate Taylor is a masterful puppeteer for wrapping an amazing cast of vibrant women with the perfect dose of comedy, drama and surprise.
Beginning the film with Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis), the tone is instantly set with those sad, tired eyes. Nursing her seventeenth white child and working for less than minimum wage as the hired help, she narrates her story with a calm and resolved voice. From her shifty eyes, nervous sweating and knocking knees, Viola Davis completely submerges into this dynamic character with an uncompromising strength. We are quickly introduced to Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan (Emma Stone), a graduate from Ole Miss that approaches Aibileen to help her with a cleaning column for the ‘Jackson Journal.’ As the ‘ugly duckling’ in the group, Skeeter finds herself running to Aibileen after losing her own housemaid, Constantine. On a secret mission to tell a story that has never been told, the risks these women take on-screen throughout the development of their unyielding project will have you flexed at the edge of your seat.
Believe the hype on Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) — she lavishly gets wilder and wilder with that sass-mouth and hand-on-hip action throughout the duration of the film. Did you know she was the original inspiration for this character from the author herself? Engulfing nearly half of the comedic moments to herself, Octavia Spencer will shake her hips and roll her eyes with a fantastic fierceness. However, working for the worst woman in town and living with six kids and an abusive husband, Minny still has some moments of defeat. In a persistent war with the deliciously wicked witch, Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), you’ll be crying with laughter when you finally find out about ‘the terrible awful.’ Drawn out like cartoons, you can smell trouble cooking in the kitchen whenever these girls are around, with their pointing fingers, raised eyebrows and storming exits.
Another comedic and inevitably lovable character is Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain), a busty and adorably naive woman from Sugar Ditch who wants to hire Minny without telling her husband. After TREE OF LIFE, it’s a little hard to believe Jessica Chastain could play a dumb blonde this effectively, but she does an exquisite job at portraying a woman in desperation. Of course we can’t forget Hilly’s mother Mrs. Walters (Sissy Spacek). Where we would otherwise assume a loopy old hag mumbling nonsense, she surprises us with some bold moments laced with a precious, silly humor.
Beyond the hot food cooking in the kitchen, we also get right down to business. The film surrounds itself around Hilly’s ‘Home Help Sanitation Initiative,’ a bill that requires every white home to have a separate bathroom for the colored help. There’s a riot about a special chocolate pie and old toilets thrown out on the lawn! We see a drastic turn of events shortly after the annual Benefit and Skeeter’s book gets published anonymously, causing chaos in Jackson. THE HELP diligently follows the delicate best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett to an alarming degree: at 137 minutes, it gets to feel a little lengthy. Beyond that shortcoming, the laughter, the tears, the hope and the help contribute to a magnificent picture.
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