The Help (2011)


You is Kind. You is Smart. And You Really Want to Be More Important Than You Probably is.

I was not excited to watch today’s movie, and not just for fear of how many racist/sexist jokes I might make. I liked who I knew in the cast, had been told really good things about other people in the cast, but I have gone on record in saying that I am not a fan of dramas. I don’t know why I would want to pay money to go somewhere and feel bad for myself. And to make that worse, why would I pay money to have a movie make me feel bad for being white? And that’s exactly what I expected out of The Help. Either that, or a movie about how liberated and progressive Emma Stone is, and how she should be praised as a superhero for black people. Either way, I didn’t want to do that. So when my coworker, Samrizon, suggested that I watch and review this movie, I said okay. ‘Cause that’s how I do, people! The Help was an adaptation of a novel by Kathryn Stockett, written and directed for screen by Tate Taylor, and stars Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia L. Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney, Mary Steenburgen, Aunjanue Ellis, Sissy Spacek, Ahna O’Reilly, and Cicely Tyson. Let’s find out how many times I yelled “Go on, Soul Sister!” during this movie.

Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone) has just moved back home after graduating, and takes up employment with a “homemaker hints” column in the local newspaper. She goes to the maid, Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis), for advice for the column, but this is short lived as Aibileen’s boss, Elizabeth Leefolt (Ahna O’Reilly), thinks it’s getting in the way of Aibileen’s work. Meanwhile, another white woman named Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) is a dirty, racist bitch. She fires her maid, Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), for using her white people toilet with Minny’s black booty, just ’cause there was a hurricane going on outside and Minny didn’t want to go out there to use the outdoors, black people toilet. Publisher Elain Stein (Mary Steenburgen) gives Skeeter the idea that she should write something she cares about that no one wants to talk about. That gives Skeeter the idea to interview all of the black maids and put their stories into a book that she can take credit for, but the maids argue her down to not giving anyone credit for it and just telling the stories.

This movie is thoroughly okay. I think it’s probably the story that held me back the most. I mean, we had a good arrangement going and Skeeter had to go and muck it all up. Okay, that’s not what I meant. It just all seemed a little obvious, and I wasn’t able to connect to it. I know that things were shitty for black people back in the 50’s or 60’s, but I wasn’t there and I wasn’t black so I can’t connect. I could connect with white males, sure, but there were barely any in this movie. All this being the case, I couldn’t judge my feelings about what was happening in the movie from experience. Judging it from today’s standards and all of the white people are pretty on the nose in their depictions, and the situations all seem a bit melodramatic. There’s the white girl that is super progressive for her time and regards the black people as equals or better, there’s the white girl who is openly and aggressively racist, there’s the old mother who seems to have found the error of her ways in her old age, and the old mother who loves her maid but is too afraid to be different in order to defend her. There’s also a good deal of Breakfast Club-style archetypes in this movie with Howard as the leader of the popular club, Stone as the artsy quasi-outcast, and Jessica Chastain as the girl that’s an outcast because she’s with the queen bee’s ex-boyfriend. It does have a good message, but one that is nowhere near as powerful today as it would have been back then. Not that racism is gone today or anything, but most people going to see this movie probably don’t have experience dealing with racism on that level. Then again, I’m a white guy, so what do I know? If I was writing this review in the 60’s, I would only be seeing status quo and not racism, and I would be worshiped as a God because I owned a computer and had the internet.

There were a couple of things that didn’t make any sense to me in this movie. First off, why put a shot of a good lookin woman like Emma Stone in her underwear if you’re gonna make her wear that gross, period-correct underwear. Underwear was gross back in the day. There’s also a scene where Emma Stone’s mother, Allison Janney, wakes Emma up and her reaction is so weird that it threw me off. She yelled “No” as she was waking up in a way that seemed more like her mom was killing a puppy in front of her than just her not wanting to wake up yet. There was a major storyline going on in the movie about Bryce Dallas Howard hating Jessica Chastain, but I never really understood why. They mentioned that Howard thought Chastain had been fucking Howard’s boyfriend while they were still dating, but her reaction seemed a little much for something that wasn’t actually happening. There’s also a part in the movie where Minnie gets back at Hilly by feeding her a pie with her shit in it. That’s real. Howard was such a bitch in the movie that my problem clearly isn’t the fact that she ate shit, but how much sugar would it take to make a pie not only edible with shit in it, but Howard seemed to think it was delicious!

The performances in the movie range from pretty good to fantastic. Emma Stone was pretty good, and had a couple good moments based around her maid Constantine (Cicely Tyson), who had raised her more than her mother, but was recently fired by her mother. The rest of the time she was fine, but not spellbinding. Viola Davis was almost always spellbinding. I don’t know that I’ve seen her in a movie before, but she was good as shit. When she told the story about her son to Skeeter, it was heartbreaking. I hated Bryce Dallas Howard’s guts throughout the movie, but it’s not a negative for her because that’s the reaction you’re supposed to have to that character. She’s always got this happy, nice facade up, but underneath she’s a snooty, hateful bitch. She’s not so much a racist, but only because she seems to be shitty to everyone. I guess she does kick it up a notch for black people. Octavia Spencer was good, but I don’t recall any parts where she really caught my attention except in the scenes where she interacted with Jessica Chastain. I liked their relationship a lot. Chastain’s character was probably the second white person who wasn’t a racist in the movie, not because she was taking a stand like Emma Stone, but because she just seemed too innocent, as if she just wasn’t aware of the fact that she was supposed to be racist. Sissy Spacek was as good as she always is, but she didn’t have many emotional scenes. She actually worked mostly as comic relief in this movie. She was losing her memory, but having fun with it. And I totally believe Spacek as Howard’s mother. Them’s good casting.

The Help is a fine movie that just doesn’t connect with this shut-in white guy. The story’s fine but perhaps a bit obvious, with characters that are well-performed but written a little heavy with the archetypes. I got this movie from a RedBox and I feel satisfied with the experience for a dollar. I think you will be too. And if you have to wait for it to arrive from Netflix, probably the same. I can’t say that I like this movie enough to run out and buy it, but if I see it on sale, maybe. The Help gets “Fried chicken just tend to make you feel better about life” out of “That’s a quote from the movie. Don’t call me a racist!”

Hey, peeps. Why not rate and comment on this as a favor to good ole Robert, eh? And tell your friends! Let’s make me famous!

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