Copyright MainstreamMatt/Mainstream 2005-2011
For a film about struggle, The Help is at least successful in mirroring that feeling as a moviegoing experience; it is interminably long and worthy beyond description. But there is a reason that this film has been the sleeper hit of the summer at the US box office, and that’s because there are elements of this adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s best selling book that do warrant praise. The universally superb acting from the cast, and a manipulative, tinkly piano accompanied heart that errs precariously on the side of mawkishness, but tugs enough on the heartstrings to elevate it above the TV movie special that it appears to be.
It’s 1960’s Mississippi, and America is in the middle of the African-American Civil Rights Movement. Society girl Skeeter (Emma Stone) has her heart set on a career as a writer, so prompted by comments made by prejudice socialite, Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) stumbles upon the idea of providing a voice to the hundreds of African-American maids that work for rich white families in deep-South USA. It’s a decision that has drastic personal and social effects on Skeeter and the two maids with whom she has struck up a bond - Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer) - in a back-water town in which progressive thinking is discouraged.
The Help is rewarding if you stick with it; cynics will call it emotionally calculating, not down to the important and historical subject matter at the films core, but because of the way in which it is structured through soft focus filming and a soundtrack which prompts you to emotionally react in an audibly clichéd way every time someone makes a soapbox monologue. The opening 40mins are an exercise in stereotypes that thankfully subsides once Skeeter begins to coax the stories from the maids and characters begin to be fleshed out.
Emma Stone is fast becoming the sole reason to see most movies, stretching her acting muscles in more mature fare and nailing the vulnerable naivety of someone attempting to redress years of discrimination. The films trump card triumvirate are, and for differing reasons, a resurgent Dallas Howard as the spiteful characterisation of bigotry, making the most of her two dimensional bad gal. Along with Davis and Minny as the repressed workers; their performances are the empathic hook that makes The Help succeed. Don’t be surprised to find one, if not all of those names, banded around come Kodak Theatre time in March.
Attempts to shoe-horn in a love interest for Stone fall flat; largely thanks to the fact that the plot thread recurs so intermittently that it becomes superfluous. On the plus side, this does contain the best pie based gag since American Pie, and I challenge you not to be the slightest bit moved come the triumphant, yet grounded finale arrives.