“Courage sometimes skips a generation.”
The Help is yet another example of the latest Hollywood trend in that a popular book is converted to the big screen. What’s more, is the fact that Hollywood seems to be learning from its past mistakes and getting better at this type of conversion. The Help may not be the best book-to-film transformation ever made, but is nonetheless worthy of its Best Picture nomination at this year’s Oscars. In fact, 6 of this year’s 9 nominees for the top award are adaptations of books (yes I’m considering War Horse as an adaptation). What does that say?
No matter if you’ve read the book or not, The Help is an entertaining and relatively easy-to-follow film. Perhaps a little too women-centric for some, The Help is nonetheless meant for everyone. One thing that I liked about this film is how it uses an outsider’s perspective to reveal the inner workings of the Deep South in the 1960’s. It is an indirect method that merely touches the surface of some of the more controversial subjects being explored rather than addressing them head on. As a result, the audience doesn’t feel like they are being force fed heaping spoonfuls of depressing material, a la Precious. Instead, the story is more heart-warming than heart-wrenching.
That’s not to say that the film is without its sad moments. These sad moments are more than made up for with happy moments, which, depending on how you look at it could be a good or bad thing. Regardless, this emotional roller coaster is what gives the movie its entertainment value. It also has a rewatchability that is sometimes absent from films depicting controversial material, and for this reason alone it is a worthy contender for the best picture Oscar.
Story: The film follows a young writer named Skeeter, who moves back home to Mississippi to be with her ailing mother. She takes a job at a local newspaper and her assignment is to answer questions about housecleaning in a daily column. To get some help answering these questions, she turns to the housekeepers in her friend’s houses. The writer in her awakens and she decides that the difficult lives of these housekeepers needs to be shared and decides to write a novel comprised of various stories from these housekeepers. Unfortunately, because of the controversial nature of what she is trying to accomplish, at first no one wants to help her. However, as events unfold, the housekeepers one-by-one decide to help Skeeter at the expense of their own personal safety and that of their families…Good (23/25)
Acting: Emma Stone is the focus of the story as Skeeter and does well. She is convincing in the character’s determination and devotion to her writing. Viola Davis is strong in her stoic and emotional portrayal of one of the housekeepers. Octavia Spencer steals the show in her scenes as another housekeeper that is engaging and outgoing. Bryce Dallas Howard also puts in a good performance as one of Skeeter’s friends, who is also the main antagonist. She rightfully makes the audience hate her character and never once do you doubt her conviction. Finally, Jessica Chastain shows why she is a rising star in Hollywood. Her performance as an atypical housewife is the perfect anectode to Howard’s and manages to give the film a sense of unpredictability that makes it entertaining. Good (24/25)
Directing: Although director Tate Taylor does not have a long directing resume, he manages to do a fine job as director here. He crafts the film to reflect the onscreen emotion, rather than using his direction to create an emotion. This is especially evident in the way in which the film frames the lives of the housekeepers as compered to the lives of Skeeter’s friends. Perhaps this style of directing won’t be as creative or original, but at least it will not distract or take anything away from the emotional story. Good (20/25)
Special Effects/X-Factor: As far as special effects I will simply comment on the way the film realistically captures 1960’s Mississippi. The colors, the scenery, the textures, and the details are all very convincing. I have not read the book, so I cannot comment on how similar the film is, but I will say there were times that I felt characters were forgotten or misused. I understand that everything is used to paint a bigger picture, but with such a full cast of characters it can get a little overwhelming at times. Nonetheless, this is a good story and as far as I am aware, a worthy adaptation. Good (22/25)
Rating: (89/100) = B+ (Highly Recommended)
- What’s Good: A full cast of lively characters are brought to life by an outstanding cast. The story is entertaining as well, as it perfectly balances happy and sad moments to create something that is truly memorable.
- What’s Bad: The direction boarders on generic, and while the subject matter is controversial, the film is not as impactful as it could have been.
Summary: More happy than sad makes the controversial subject material easier to digest.
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