Oscar buzz is floating around the book adaptation of The Help that hit theaters last August and DVD at the end of the last year. It’s easy to see why, as The Help turns out to be a film that tackles some tough material in a way that still somehow makes you feel good in the end.
Set amongst the backdrop of the civil rights movement, The Help follows a young, eccentric journalist who decides to write a book from the perspective of “The Help” in rural Mississippi. As our heroine, Skeeter, shows great courage in befriending and telling the story of the African American hired maids and home workers. She finds it harder than she ever thought to get them to go on record about their mistreatment. Luckily for Skeeter, Aibileene Clark takes a chance on Skeeter that sparks the story of a lifetime.
I will be the first to admit that I have not read the book, The Help . I’ve been told it is very good by a wide cross section of readers and I would believe it based off the film adapatation. The Help carries you through the life of African American servants during the 60’s with great ease. It is hard to actually look back on this period an actually think for a moment this is how Caucasians treated African Americans. Some of the comments made and scenarios seemed like some sort of over blown joke– after all there is no way that we actually treated people like this is there? Sadly enough, the issues The Help brings up is only the tip of the iceberg during a dark time in America’s past. The Help manages to capture that moment with ease while capturing the enduring spirit of the African Americans that suffered through it.
Aibileen Clark, played by Viola Davis is probably the most memorable character from the movie as Davis gives an outstanding performance. Even in some of the slower scenes, Davis manages to capture your attention and command screen time. Along for the ride in a fun, comic relief, supporting role is Octavia Spencer who does a wonderful job of being a light hearted break from the downed spirits of so many characters of The Help . However, in some ways, I found her character to be a little over blown. She was almost too colorful of a character to believe; Some of her scenes seemed forced to be over the top and filled full of “sassy black woman” stereotypes. While it added some comic relief, to me it actually deterred from the movie a bit.
The young Caucasian journalist, Skeeter, is played by Emma Stone who has become quite the young actress to reckoned with. Stone hits this one out of the park again, but doesn’t push the envelope to any herculean heights. Her performance as Skeeter seemed like a 60’s version of her character in Easy A. She’s smart, quick witted, determined and plays the cute, driven, girl next door role with great ease. Despite giving a great performance in The Help , Stone seems to get edged out by stronger performances by Davis and other co-star Bryce Dallas Howard. Howard manages to master that character you love to hate. She is the epitome of the worst of the worst of southern belles. However, much like Octavia Spencer’s over blown character , Howard’s Hilly Holbrook comes off as more of an over written, evil supervillain than just a horribly bigoted Southern belle.
Watching The Help from start to finish I found that it kept a run time of a little over 2 hours and 20 minutes which felt a little bit long to me. However as the end credits were rolling, I found myself hard pressed to find things that I would take out of the film. While the entire compilation of scenes gave us a film that felt long, every scene was powerful and had a purpose. Even as I am writing this I feel like such a complainer when I am whining about a film’s length but there was something about The Help that had me looking at my watch. With that being said, I didn’t leave the film thinking it took way too long. I can’t put my finger on scenes that were drawn out past their expiration date and I certainly think that every scene deserved to be in the final cut. So with that in mind, take my comments about a long run time with a grain of salt.
When it was all said and done The Help managed to give great insight into the lives of African Americans in the 60’s. It accomplished it with style and grace, and gave us a wonderful cast of characters. Even though a few of them seemed a bit over done the film resonated with me. I had a good time watching it and it reminded me of a dark time in American history that we like to quickly dismiss and overlook. The Help left me ashamed to know that humans would treat each other like that and be so ignorant. However it also somehow managed to make me feel good in the end knowing that while the battle against racism still goes on today people like Skeeter and Aibileen paved the way for change by speaking out.