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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Help (Release Date: 8-10-2011)

        Today is Wednesday, August 24th. The Help was released exactly Two weeks ago, which marks the biggest gap between a wide release date and my posting a review in the history of this site (not including Ones that I simply didn't see, of course). I relay this facinating news because I figure it's only fair to reveal my bias: I really, really, really didn't want to see The Help. The trailer promoted it as a feel-good true story, quite literally the most predictable of all genres, and when I caught sight of its weighty 146 minute runtime, I was pretty sure this One wouldn't be for me. Two weeks later, and The Help has become a sizable hit, opening at number Two at the box office before proceeding to swipe the top spot the next weekend. Oscar talk started stirring, and I finally gave in and just saw the thing.

        Based on the best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett, The Help is the story of Two social circles that live side by side in mid-60's Jackson, Mississippi. The first is the, 'society ladies,' if you will, a group of backstabbers dressed in pastel and bright flower-print dresses. Skeeter (Emma Stone) has just returned from college to find that all of her old friends have started popping out babies. Her reluctance to follow suit raises eyebrows all around, most prominently from devilish Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard). On the other side of this is the help, the colored women who practically raise their employers infants all by themselves, just to be treated like dirt in return. Recognizing this injustice, Skeeter sets out to essentially collect the memoirs of various house maids in the area, seeking to humanize women like the sassy Minny (Octavia Spencer), and the ever-suffering Aibileen (Viola Davis) in a completely unprecedented and illegal way.

        Sophomore Writer/Director Tate Taylor has got some chops: The Help manages to remain reasonably engaging throughout its mammoth runtime, and though Taylor isn't One for a whole lot of extra stylization, the movie's craft is consistently handsome and assured. The score by Thomas Newman is the same cheesy, contrived stuff as every TV anti-racism movie you've ever seen, but Taylor often (though not often enough) has the gumption to play important scenes without it. He's also good with his actors, a fact that is highlighted by the film's savvy casting, ever-credible Davis receiving more screen time than ever before, Stone proving a surprisingly effective dramatic actor. So, yeah, I suppose that I liked The Help more than I expected too, but don't get that mixed up with a recommendation just yet.

        The Help is a drama without a drop of warm blood in its veins. People are crying about lost sons and rampant mistreatment within the first Two minutes, before we've even seen a character's face, and such feel-bad-and-guilty-NOW style arm-twisting continues nonstop thereafter. The screenplay is chuck-full of mind-numbingly expository dialogue, flat, unchanging characters, and even it finds time to slip in a Magical Negro or Two ( Hilly Holbrook, for instance, never takes even a single break from being the worst person ever, just as Aibileen could be described as steadfast, stoic, and... yeah, that's about as much character development as anyone here gets. As I said earlier, I commend Taylor for knowing how to make a 146 minute long flick move well, but how much drama can you really squeeze out of a story where no One ever does anything unexpected, and you know the moral and eventual conclusion coming in, save minor details. I suppose The Help isn't a total mess: I'd watch it over The Blind Side any day of the week, but you can rest assured that I will be doing my best to avoid both.

Grade: C-

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