Movie Review: The Help

“The Help” on IMDB

Drama, 146 Minutes, 2011

Before getting into the movie let me say: I had no idea what this was.  My wife had read the book and demanded that we see it so… we did.  But I asked her, “what’s this about?”  She got a gleam in her eye and started, “Well, there’s this white woman that -” and I stopped her.  Basically there’s only a few kind of movies that can be described with that phrase (and my wife isn’t even remotely interested in several of them).  It’s like “This guy finds out he has a kid…” or “These kids find a map…”  Even if you can’t say exactly what’s going to happen you know basically what’s going to happen.

In any case – good movie!  You see this white woman (see what I did there?) in the 1960’s South decides to collect stories from the black maids that run the white households, raise the white children, cook the white meals and generally do anything productive or useful.  Of course truth about racial inequality isn’t exactly in high demand in 1960’s Jackson, Mississippi so drama ensues.

This isn’t the kind of movie that needs to be “true” – and it isn’t.  It’s (sweetly) preachy and wildly (but nicely) manipulative.  More seriously, if you look at it too closely it’s pretty easy to see where it often favors entertainment value more than the cause it champions.  While I’m sure there are those that will obsess over this it has no impact to a casual viewing.

The stand-out performance has to be Bryce Dallas Howard.  She’s a royal-right-bastard.  You will loathe her and there’s something positive to be said for a beautiful person that can emote such stark ugliness.  All the other performances are good.  Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are excellent although Octavia is risking type-casting herself with each additional “sassy black-lady” role.  As much as I love Emma Stone, and she’s excellent here, I do wish she’d take some chances with her acting.

(An aside: the emotional apex of the film is framed by the assassination of Medgar Evers.  While I liked “Ghosts of Mississippi” it did make me wonder why he’s not received a high-profile block-buster of his life.  Hollywood – let’s put that inevitable remake of “Cannonball Run” on the back-burner and get on this, okay?)

It is a little hard to take the movie very seriously if you consider it too long.  In many ways it’s basically historical revisionism.  It’s fiction posing as non-fiction about something that might have helped if it had happened then and wasn’t just made-up now.  It’s the kind of movie that you think should be true if only to congratulate yourself for your imaginary contributions to the current improvement of race relations.

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  1. “It’s fiction posing as non-fiction about something that might have helped if it had happened then and wasn’t just made-up now.”

    That was a great line in your review.

    I happened to think very highly of this film because it was entertaining – it also had more than several very fine performances.

    Some people were commenting about the verisimilitude of what really happened in Jackson, Mississippi. And if one does that – being concerning about the reality will just take away from the film’s value. Your review touches on this but doesn’t go to far in that direction.

    Thanks for the good read.


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