(Maid for the Oscars) The Help Review

The Help Review
By Bret Dorman

Every year there’s a movie or two that is obviously pandering for Oscar votes. It makes its characters go through some really sad things during a really sad time and then manages to overcome all obstacles to do the right thing!

The Help is that movie… mostly.

The Story: Eugenia aka Skeeter (Emma Stone) is the one white lady in Jackson Mississippi who thinks treating The Help (That’s the name of the movie!) poorly is wrong. So she recruits Aibileen Clark to help her fight back… with words! Also, Jessica Chastain is awesome.

Ok, so if I pick on this movie for being formulaic and generic and cliche you can do some minor research and know that I will dismiss some of these problems in worse movies, usually Action Movies. My argument for that is Action Movies do not get their just praise too often. It takes a REALLY good one to come out and get everyone on board. If I praise Mission: Impossible III or The Crank Series for being unbelievably awesome, people might scoff at me. But they are.

Also, because this movie chooses an easy topic to get people all worked up about and emotional over, it doesn’t have to do some of the work like other movies. Now as we get into my review further you’ll note I don’t think this movie is always taking the easy way out and yes there are some good, even great, things about it, but the simple fact remains that most people will forgive this movie for its flaws and be suckered in by its overall endearing sweetness. Should I let affect my review? No, probably not. But I am. I will not bash this movie because it is better than that. At the same time, I will not over-praise this movie because it does not deserve that either.

To start out, we have Skeeter. Skeeter was born in Jackson Mississippi but for some reason can see through all the BS and knows that treating black people poorly just because they are black is super wrong. I’m not saying I don’t like her because she does the right thing, but given the time and place it deserves a little more than just “Oh btw everyone I was raised in a super racist place but I’m not racist”. Emma Stone was a good choice for the role since she has that automatic sarcastic tone, even if it’s the biggest thing out of place in this movie. Interesting thing though is she doesn’t really take any action to changing it until it can benefit her, in the form of writing a book to get a job.

Viola Davis plays Aibileen, the first maid to help her out. Basically, its impossible for Davis to ever do anything on the screen without you feeling like its the most important, kind, sad, or moving thing ever done by anyone. In this context it could have been a super cheesy thing to do, especially with any other actress, but Davis also is super sincere about everything she does. Which is good for the movie.

Octavia Spencer plays a dangerously over the top stereotypical sassy fat black woman named Minnie. Most the movie she provides the comedic relief of sorts but she also has a heart of gold. Its not until she later teams up with Celia Foote that she finds her ‘footing’ (pun intended!) as a character.

Celia Foote is played by Jessica Chastain. Chastain brings a large amount of bouncy, fun energy to this movie that doesn’t need it, but is greatly helped by it. Celia as a character was my favorite because she is just too nice and naive to know that she has to be racist. She just wants to be friends with anyone. There is one nice moment later though where she may reveal that she knows what she is doing…

Hilly Holbrook looking for a reason to be so mean...

Finally we have the main villain. Bryce Dallas Howard as the despicable Hilly Holbrook. I do like Howard and her portrayal of Hilly, but I do not like how generically evil she is. She does a lot of really mean things that are specifically designed to get under people’s skin but she never has a moment that explains her and her hatred of anyone who not white. I’m not saying that I need to know more about every person who is racist or that you need to dedicate more screen time to her, but if you’re character is THIS racist it could be interesting to see.

So that’s it. There are some other performances that are hit or miss. The guy who plays the main writer boss in the beginning was clearly meant for some quick cheap laughs but the audience I saw it with did not laugh at all. In fact, except for one guy who laughed very loud and distinctly at every sassy remark Minnie made, the theater was really quiet. I am kind of a comedy snob of sorts, but I was surprised how flat this movie fell with the rest of the audience. Then again the average age without me in the theater was probably 55 or older. The movie does try to be funny and most the jokes are average or dull, the strength in this movie is definitely the sad parts.

I’m not a complete heartless robot and to say I wasn’t moved by some of the triumphant ‘victory’ scenes would be a lie. What I do not like is that in order to get to those moments, we have to first raise the stakes or set the odds higher, and to do that we put our characters in some really bad moments, the super sad moments. I do not like these moments because I know they are there just so we can feel better later. I like the sad-happy parts but not the sad-sad parts.

In Conclusion, I spent more time on characters than plot because this movies greatest strength is its performances. The Help over-embellishes its sad-sad parts and really lets the characters shine in their happy-sad parts. I really wanted this movie to be bad so I could rip it apart but all around it does what it needs to do. Its not my kind of movie but its not a bad movie either.

Final Grade: C

Jessica Chastain practicing her red carpet smile...

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