“No one had ever asked me, what it felt like to be me. Once I told the truth about that, I felt free.”
Cast: Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer
When a young, white, wanna-be journalist decides to write a book about black maids from a notoriously dangerous and racist town, she doesn’t realise the real extent of what she’s getting herself into. Set in 1960s America when there were massive amounts of segregation, The Help is a beautiful story that deals with the hostility and unbearable strife that black people faced – especially that of the maids – in Jackson, Mississippi.
Having read the book I was really excited about watching the film, albeit a bit apprehensive. Films often tend to miss capturing the true emotion conveyed in a book but The Help was not a disappointment and with the amount of awards it has collected, I’m definitely not the only one who thinks this.
The first thing that has to be said about the film is how great the performances were. Viola Davis in particular was a favourite. Her portrayal of Aibileen, one of the main focuses, was really brilliant. It’s exactly how I imagined her to be and she really manages to convey some real heartfelt emotion. The next actor who had me really impressed was Emma Stone who plays Skeeter, the journalist who really wants to see a difference in society. Having been raised by her maid rather than her mother, Skeeter has a real care for these women and the way they are treated. She is a bit naive in terms of how serious the issue of writing the book is and how threatening the consequences will be if she’s discovered. Stone does a great job and it’s fantastic to see her in a more serious role rather than her usual comedic one – even though she does bring a few laughs with her.
There were other great performances from Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly Holbrook and Jessica Chastain as Celia Foote. They all leave a lasting impression and really do manage to capture the feelings that were around in those times, although occasionally it seemed a bit lackluster or fickle. While in some cases they could have been stronger in their performances, it seemed the script was really holding them back. I have no doubt that they had it in them to play their roles more in line with the true mentality of white women at that time, but then it’s the director who really has the last say. Other notable roles came from Sissy Spacek as Mrs. Walters and Allison Janney as Charlotte Phelan, their roles as older women meant their behaviour was more inclined to be racist and less open minded, they both did a great job with this.
The things that I felt could have been changed to increase the quality of the film are probably what Hollywood voted against. Even though it is a whopping 2 hours 20 minutes, I felt they missed out some of the story or glossed over some of the more tackling issues. Some of its racial themes were merely brushed at surface level and in some cases, not given the attention they should have been. It’s things like this that needed attention to really secure it as a serious film that dealt with racial issues. Instead I think they were trying too hard to make it a commercial success. So either it could have been longer to fit in these qualities and risked becoming too lengthy, or it could have been tighter and more concise in its script. However the length it sits as was good in terms of the audiences attention span and interest, my minor annoyance isn’t really about the length, it’s really to do with overall content.
The Help is a great film that tries to show its audience the other side of things. While it seems to care more about commercial success rather than content in some cases, this, just like the amount of attention given to its more serious racial themes, can be looked over. Davis and Stone are fantastic and if you’re given the opportunity to watch it, I’d say don’t miss it.
Star rating: 7/10
Directed by Tate Taylor.
Running time 137 minutes.