"The Help" photocall at the 37th Deauville American Film Festival. (Bauer Griffin)more pics » The Bottom Line
Should you see it?
Unless you like your civil rights history spoon-fed to you, skip this insulting TV movie-quality film.
Phony in its conviction and made to look like a TV movie of the week, The Help
treats its weighty subject matter with a relaxed platitude that only serves to insult the true heroes of the civil rights movement. This film is so over-produced and filled with cliches, it's no wonder it's a Disney movie. The problem with Disney taking actual serious subject matter, balling it up like cookie dough and baking it in the oven is that it trivializes the motif it's meant to instill. Does Adam Sandler
make holocaust movies? Even he wouldn't be that stupid.Emma Stone
plays Skeeter Phelan, a progressive Ole Miss graduate who returns home and is disgusted by her friends' treatment of the local "help" - the African-American maids who serve the mid to upper-class families of Jackson, Mississippi in 1963. One friend (Elizabeth Leefolt
) has recently constructed a seperate bathroom for her maid (Viola Davis
) as a hygenic precaution. Another friend, Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard
), is so insanely racist, she's leading a movement to ensure no black people can ever share toilets with whites. "For the children.." she explains. Skeeter is an aspiring writer and decides to make a difference. She will collect the stories of all the maids and create a book.
For all The Help
's good intentions, it does nothing but purport old sterotypes and bludgeon us over the heads with obvious dialogue. Apparently, we are all complete morons since The Help
gives its audience zero credit. "You're my real momma." The doe-eyed white child tells her maid. In the fact these women were surrogate mothers and much more than mere helpers around the house, co-writer/director Tate Taylor
has actually hit on something really worth exploring. However, he spells it out for us in technicolor instead of truly examining the dynamic and allowing the audience to come to this realization.
There are plenty of other examples of the
same type of audience disrespect. Howard's character is so over the top, it's impossible to even consider her a real person. She is an actress the whole way and everything she says is laughable. Likewise, Jessica Chastain
, as the ostracized Celia Foote, is ham-handed and practically begging for cheap laughs. Stone has a few moments and does her best with a character who provides little surprise. Her Skeeter proves to be too boring to care much for unfortunately. The two lead maids, Aibileen (Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer
), are the most well-drawn characters in the film. Minny, especially, has the best lines and Spencer plays her with an anger that is both funny and endearing. She acts as the heart of the film and drives much of the action. The other stand-out is the always terrific Allison Janney
as Skeeter's sickly mother. She holds so much emotion in those giant eyes. I certainly wished her part had been expanded.
Taylor's direction is obvious and amateur. Like all Disney-produced crap-fests (most recently, The Blind Side
) the director is relegated to a supporting role as these films all follow the same patterns time and again. Thanks to the lead performances, I will say The Help
is one of the better Disney films of this ilk, although that's not a compliment. Davis and Spencer are worth seeing, but there's nothing here to consider on any kind of intellectual level. Watching a Disney-produced film about civil rights is like watching Britney Spears
cover Bob Dylan
See photos from The Help