The Help

Written by Markus Robinson, Edited by Nicole I. Ashland

Markus Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Rated PG-13 for thematic material

In this obvious passion project, what emerging writer/director Tate Taylor has created with “The Help” is an adaptation, which paints a realistic picture of Mississippi in the 1960’s, through the eyes of African American maids and their employers. The story follows three very different characters, Skeeter Phelan, Aibileen Clark and the wonderfully awful Miss Hilly Holbrook. Aibileen is a black maid, working in the Jim Crow South, as an initiative is set to be put into place, which will make it law to have colored maids use a separate bathroom located outdoors. Skeeter, a recent college graduate with a degree in Journalism, wants to write an article concerning the treatment of “the help”, as they are referred to. And you guessed it, when these horrible stories of abuse and crippling racism disguised as “just the way things are” of these African American women are made public, all hell will break loose. And by hell I mean Miss Hilly Holbrook; who will stop at nothing to stifle these servants and retain her Southern way of life.

With a beginning that is a bit too lighthearted for the subject matter, “The Help” finishes out strong, mainly because of its use of the Civil Rights movement as its backdrop, some outstanding performances (which I will get to in a minute) and a very realistic ending. Some may say that this film pulls punches because it isn’t as violent as many film depictions of this era have been known to show and to that I would say quite the contrary. This film is effective despite having little violence, by showing the dark underbelly of the black female in that generation and furthermore making direct correlations between the idea of slavery and the indentured servitude of the 60’s that these women were subjected to. And suffice to say, when this film needed to get gritty it got pretty damn gritty (and I’m not just talking about the pie. Don’t worry that’s an inside joke). While keeping an appropriate level of levity, “The Help” shows an ample amount of respect for the material throughout. The most interesting aspect of this film though, was most definitely how the interaction between the black maids and the children of their white employers where portrayed; at times heartbreaking and other times powerful enough to encompass the gravity of an entire movement through a snapshot of an embrace between a black maid and a small white child longing for a mother.

What makes a Civil Rights film: The long standing belief in Civil Rights films has been that, in order to create an accurate portrayal of a story from the Civil Rights era, it would have to be rooted in scenes of strong violence. And since the Civil Rights era itself was in fact rooted in said violence, I would tend to agree with prior notions. In fact there have only been a very few films, done well, that have even attempted at making a Civil Rights film with hardly any violence (The only one that pops into my mind is Driving Miss Daisy”). “The Help” proves that a film can be made about the Civil Rights movement, be inspirational and not be rooted in visual violence, but more in to the social and political aspect of the times and do it in an impactful way. I am not, AT ALL, saying that films which depict this dark era in American history should not contain an overwhelming amount of violence; all I am saying is that this film, in particular, gives a powerful alternative.

Much like 2010’s “The Fighter” (not at all like “Bridesmaids”!), “The Help” contains one of the best ensemble casts of the year! Viola Davis (Doubt), as the organizer of these brave group of African American women, gives an Oscar worthy performance, Octavia Spencer (Seven Pounds) and Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life) display a very interesting/engaging dynamic in their respective supporting roles and the addition of veterans such as Cicely Tyson (aka Miss Jane Pittman) and Sissy Spacek (In the Bedroom, Coal Miner’s Daughter) in a film like this was nothing short of a stroke of genius by the producers of this film. Another performance which much be highlighted is that of Bryce Dallas Howard (Hereafter), who plays the high and mighty Hilly Holbrook, the woman you love to hate, with such assertiveness and undeniable star appeal, that audiences are sure to be hooked on every motion, every line and every snide comment she has to give. Howard has such a breakout performance here (like a James Woods as Byron De La Beckwith) that she deserves some kind of supporting role recognition. Surprisingly the only performance which kept me wanting was that of Emma Stone (Easy A), who, not surprisingly, was out acted by this power-house cast of immensely talented female leads.

Side Note: For all of you still out there who like to read the book before watching the movie, knowing the film adaptation will undoubtedly be lacking; from what I hear the movie stays very faithful to the novel. By the way, this film is so well written that it is hard to believe that these characters are works of fiction, so kudos to all of the writers associated with this project.

Final Thought: If I had to pick a genre of film of which I believe my knowledge excels in the most (and the deepest), it would be “African America” cinema. Furthermore, it is interesting that “The Help” would use the Medger Evers assassination as a backdrop to its own events because, in this reviewers opinion, “The Help” rates right up there with a great Civil Rights film like “Ghosts of Mississippi”. Yes, it’s that good! But after how much I have just raved about this film, how could anyone think I felt any less. I am probably not the first and will definitely not be the last to make the proclamation that “The Help” will be (unequivocally) the first true contender for an Oscar nomination nod for Best Picture of the Year.

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