The Help (2011)

The Help

The Help – IMDb 234/250

Poignant and moving while remaining greatly entertaining is how I would describe Tate Taylor’s The Help, a 2011 American period drama film based on the 2009 novel of the same name by Kathryn Stockett.

Set in 1960s Southern America, Emma Stone plays Skeeter, a young aspiring journalist who returns home to Jackson, Mississippi and looking to start a career as a journalist, decides to write a book The Help, highlighting the experiences and prejudices black maids faced from their housekeepers, told by the maids themselves.

The experiences she writes about are mainly from Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) and Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), who tell Skeeter of their various experiences, despite the fact that revealing this information may draw the ire and racial abuse of their housekeepers and other racists in the city.

This story of courage is led by its mostly female cast, with Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain producing performances of real quality.

Davis is the star for me, doing an excellent job of creating sympathy for Aibileen while showing what a strong and compassionate woman she is, particularly in the loving, motherly care she shows for Mae Mobley, a young girl she essentially solely takes care of due to the apparent disinterest Mae’s mother Elizabeth Leefolt (Ahna O’Reilly) shows for her child.

Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer give Oscar worthy performances

Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer give Oscar worthy performances

Aibileen’s care for Mae really does play on your heartstrings, not with a great deal of subtlety but it is still a beautiful and sad story that takes place within the central plot, particularly the ending which I will admit had me close to tears.

She gets Mae to say to herself every morning, ‘You is kind, you is smart, you is important.’ Not only is this Aibileen making sure Mae knows she is special when her mother shows her no interest, but is something Aibileen perhaps taught herself to say to herself after the prejudice she has endured as a black woman in Southern America in the 60s.

Octavia Spencer is excellent as Minnie as well. Although there as perhaps the main comedic element to the story, Spencer (in her Oscar winning role) is just perfect as the outspoken black maid, who puts something certainly not in the recipe book into her chocolate pie for her housekeeper Hilly Holdbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), in a truly memorable and hilarious scene.

The acting from everyone in The Help is simply wonderful though, helping to tell this inspiring story of courage and bravery in the face of inequality and hardship.

Jessica Chastain is also the right amount of sweet as the lovable but ditsy Ceilia Foote

Jessica Chastain is also the right amount of sweet as the lovable but ditsy Celia Foote

It is about these women doing what they can to create change in their society. From just showing the courage to tell their story to a white woman about the trouble they face in their day to day lives, at a time when the Civil Rights Movement was prevalent, these women hope to change their situation not necessarily for themselves but the future of their children and black society in general.

And The Help does a fantastic job of showing this. Tate Taylor paces this film superbly as the writer and director of the film, helped by having some great source material to base off.

With racial tensions in America still extremely high to this day The Helps story is, sadly, extremely relevant, even if this is set 53 years ago. It just shows how ridiculous white superiority is, and how awful having someone as ignorant and single minded as Donald Trump as president would be for the USA, clearly nostalgic of a time when divisions and prejudice was rife through the country.

Looking at it negatively you could say this movie is just a crowd pleaser film, an exercise in box ticking which glosses over serious racial tensions of the time. Some critics even say that it does more to distort and trivialise the experiences of black domestic workers, and reading up on the subject you can see what they mean and there is an argument to be made.

But personally I found this film almost impossible not to enjoy. It’s mixture of comedy with emotional drama made it one of the best films I have seen in a long time, even if its inner themes of equality and racial divides are glossed over. Driven by some stunning performances from Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, The Help is an instantly enjoyable modern classic.

The Help – 8/10

Paul

 

 

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