'The Help' Review By moviegeek

You is kind. You is smart. You is important.
  • Story
  • Acting
  • Directing
  • Visuals
I get the feeling that The Help wasn't catering to me. I watched the movie and was never bored or unhappy with the film. But as the (almost entirely) elderly female audience guffawed with the jokes and sniveled at the teary scenes, I found myself strangely unmoved. This film has all of the pieces in all of the right places. There's some romance, some running gags, some emotional tragedy, some abuse, some inspiring moments. But it all seemed programmed. Staged.

"The Help" refers to the colored women hired to work as housekeepers in the white homes of 1960's Jackson, Mississippi. Emma Stone stars as Eugenia (mercifully nicknamed Skeeter), a young writer with dreams of becoming a full-time journalist. Having recently returned from schooling, she is shocked with how the colored help are being treated. She decides to write an exposé on the subject, from their point of view.

Her scandalous project begins with the testimony of one woman, Aibileen (Viola Davis). It's not just frowned upon for her to speak up. It's illegal. I find it interesting that the film (and/or book) is narrated by Aibileen, yet focused on Skeeter. Wouldn't it be more fascinating to have the colored help be the central characters? Sure it's hard to convince your mom you want to be a writer instead of a housewife, and maybe it would cause you to lose friends to associate with the help. But how much more of a struggle are these colored women facing? That's a more compelling movie, if you ask me.

With her freckled face and tightly-curled hair, Emma Stone looks almost shockingly like a younger Lindsay Lohan. Her role is central in the film, but I don't feel like her character is fully shaped. She's completely sympathetic around the colored women, but completely resistant around any white people. The lack of any crossover hurt Stone's chances of finding a breakout role.

The film, like most book adaptations, has many things going on at once. In a novel, narrative focus can deviate without becoming too wayward. But films need more of a drive. A central focus. The Help has several plots roaming around, each involving a certain character or relationship. We have the testimonies that build the book Skeeter is writing, but they're mixed in with issues of poor parenting, abuse at home, and a silly dalliance of a love story. Instead of making the film feel full and rich, it ends up feeling very episodic, with different conflicts brought up momentarily, resolved, and then just shelved for the rest of the movie.

Sissy Spacek, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastin, Octavia Spencer, and Allison Janney are just some of the additional names in this cast. And what power they bring to this film. Whether it's in acute comic timing or in heartfelt emotional pull, each of these ladies give believable, strong performances. The film also uses its large assemblage of characters to keep the picture from dragging. The runtime is bloated, but the pacing is quick and spirited.

There is much good to be said about this film and many quibbles to be had, but there is one problem that just outshines everything else. Only one character changes throughout the course of the film: Skeeter's mother. Every other character runs on autopilot from start to finish. If they started out as a racist antagonist, they'll stay that until the bitter end. The same goes for the protagonists. From the start we know who to root for and who to root against.

Something like that shouldn't make a huge difference in a film about types. But the whole purpose of Skeeter's novel was to inspire change. While everyone reads the book by the film's end, it doesn't seem to make an impact on anyone. (It's fair to note that this is disappointingly a completely fictional story) It's moving to see a good person be rewarded for their courage. But how much more moving is it to see a bad person take a stand and change for the better?

The Help seems to have a backwards focus. It has a message in mind, but it doesn't know how to arrange its parts to make the point with the power intended. Most moments of sympathy and heartbreak seemed staged instead of authentic. If the emotional pull of this film was dedicated to the characters instead of to the film's moral structure, it might have been moving. This is a congenial little movie with good intentions. It's not bad by any means, but it's rather flat.

Many have compared this to The Blind Side, and reasonably so. They both are uplifting and pleasant. They both join the "White Savior" film club, where colored people are given a chance only when a white person gives them the tools to do so. And, just like the predecessor, audiences are churning out in masses to see this. The Blind Side took a predictable story and made it genuine by showing how change occurs on both sides of the spectrum. The Help, however, is too busy trying to take all the right steps to really make any movements, on either side of the story.

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Comments (43)

  1. thedude-abides

    @moviegeek Yeah, we see eye-to-eye in every respect on this one.

    3 years agoby @thedude-abidesFlag

  2. moviegeek

    @kbelliveau hehe same here. More fun than reading my own thoughts.

    3 years agoby @moviegeekFlag

  3. kbelliveau

    Very good review. I always like reading the opposing view points.

    3 years agoby @kbelliveauFlag

  4. moviegeek

    @slysnide pahah! Pretty much. I much prefer Ellen for an occasional daytime talk-show. She's got an ego too (they clap for her for the first five minutes of each episode..), but she's actually funny so i forgive her for that.

    4 years agoby @moviegeekFlag

  5. slysnide

    @moviegeek: Exactly. I don't get why she's got so many obsessed cultists. And it pretty much is a cult. They read, watch, support, and do whatever she tells them to. And all without drugs. :P

    4 years agoby @slysnideFlag

  6. moviegeek

    @slysnide I haven't heard anything about the channel to be honest so I don't know :P But yes, her ego is quite gigantic. I still remember when she introduced Gabourey Sidibe as a Best Actress nominee and all she did was give credit to herself for finding out such a star. *gag*

    4 years agoby @moviegeekFlag

  7. slysnide

    @moviegeek: lolz. She already fired OWN's executive producer since the station's first quarter ratings sucked. Her ego is apparently too big to understand that her cultists can only take an hour of her a day. :P

    4 years agoby @slysnideFlag

  8. moviegeek

    @slysnide Oprah won't let it happen :P

    4 years agoby @moviegeekFlag

  9. slysnide

    @moviegeek: I expect to see OWN taken off the airwaves pretty quick. :P

    4 years agoby @slysnideFlag

  10. moviegeek

    @slysnide Thank you :) I expect to see it on Lifetime or OWN pretty quick :P

    4 years agoby @moviegeekFlag

  11. slysnide

    @moviegeek: Sounds like a film to watch on TV. For it does sound pretty average. Nice one.

    4 years agoby @slysnideFlag

  12. moviegeek

    @rated-x@mattbierwagen Thank you both.

    4 years agoby @moviegeekFlag

  13. Worth5Bucks

    i knew this movie would be average, thanks for the review @moviegeek

    4 years agoby @mattbierwagenFlag

  14. Rated-X

    oh also a splendid and very true review, nice comparison at the end to The Blind Side....

    4 years agoby @rated-xFlag

  15. Rated-X

    this film is heartfelt, absurdly made with passion and power, though to be honest the rating is fair, it does try to hard to be different in its approach to making a drama. films that are genially made to be different fail, though if they are just different in tone, its all go in my books.

    4 years agoby @rated-xFlag

  16. moviegeek

    @corey Lucky you! ;) hehehe

    4 years agoby @moviegeekFlag

  17. Corey W.

    @moviegeek Asked him lol.

    4 years agoby @coreyFlag

  18. moviegeek

    @corey ohhhhh! How do you know its him? hah.

    4 years agoby @moviegeekFlag

  19. Corey W.

    @moviegeek Monkeyiron you doofus! :P haha

    4 years agoby @coreyFlag

  20. moviegeek

    @corey Like.. the religious group? Or are they a band or something?

    4 years agoby @moviegeekFlag

  21. Corey W.

    @moviegeek Yeah, kind of. I'll see it in 2D though. Guess who just added me on Facebook?....the Monks..

    4 years agoby @coreyFlag

  22. moviegeek

    @corey Isn't that so weird that they're hardly promoting it?!

    4 years agoby @moviegeekFlag

  23. Corey W.

    @moviegeek Whaaaaat? I never knew that either!

    4 years agoby @coreyFlag

  24. moviegeek

    @corey Fright Night is in 3D???? How weird is it that I didn't even know that!

    4 years agoby @moviegeekFlag

  25. ejk1

    @moviegeek I don't know if I would have compared it to The Blindside in that way, considering this is based on a novel and The Bindside is based on real life events that inspired a book and movie. Regardless, this is a very insightful review, and an excellent read.

    4 years agoby @ejk1Flag

  26. Dan

    @moviegeek Love seeing that Official stamp, man.

    4 years agoby @dan1Flag

  27. Corey W.

    @moviegeek I like Statham. But, recently, DeNiro has been accepting crap roles. I'm afraid he'll ruin the fun in this for some reason.

    4 years agoby @coreyFlag

  28. moviegeek

    @corey 50/50 looks awesome. Killer Elite looks surprisingly entertaining! You probably just hate Statham :P

    4 years agoby @moviegeekFlag

  29. Corey W.

    @moviegeek Killer Elite looks like sh*t too :P Moneyball will be great. Looking forward to that. Anything with Pitt is a definite for me. 50/50 looks okay, looking forward to Levitt.

    4 years agoby @coreyFlag

  30. moviegeek

    @corey Okay... and dream house and 50/50. I guess September isn't quite the dead zone I cracked it out to be.

    4 years agoby @moviegeekFlag