Friday, January 13, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—The Help (2011) ***½

PG-13, 146 min.
Director: Tate Taylor
Writers: Tate Taylor, Kathryn Stockett (novel)
Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Ahna O’Reilly, Allison Janney, Cicely Tyson, Sissy Spacek

I didn’t go see “The Help” when it was becoming a box office phenomenon in August. I read a review that suggested it was a movie about black people that makes white people feel better about how black people were treated in the South during the civil rights movement. That’s what I get for reading other critics. That’s also why I don’t usually read other critics before I write my reviews.

The popular consensus on “The Help” was that it was a great movie. With most of the awards season spent and the last few big awards shows looming, “The Help” seems poised to be a major contender. After finally seeing for myself, I’m of the belief that it is exactly what the producers and voters on these big award shows love to see in the mix, if not riding right out front. I think it’s a good movie, not the best of the year, but worth seeing.

The movie looks first hand at the tense civil relations in a small Mississippi town. Much of the story is from the point of view of the black help for elite white families. A good portion of the movie is also told from the perspective of one of the white children raised by the black help. She is Eugenia Phelan, although everyone calls her ‘Skeeter’. I suppose her gumption to write a book based on the help’s perspective makes her a pest in most of her piers eyes.

The movie’s greatest asset is its ensemble cast. Everyone in it plays an important role in the overall effectiveness of the film, from the two primary leads, down to the guy serving at the diner. I would expect to see Oscar nominations for Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain. I

“The Help” may be a little soft on the harshness of the social vitriol in the South at the time, although there is one absolutely vile woman played by Bryce Dallas Howard. The acceptance by the older generation of the social progression in the story is probably fairly inaccurate, since they’re the ones who taught their children to treat their help so much as property.

The film does tell a story worth hearing, however. The relatively unknown Tate Taylor, who comes to the story from personal experience, skillfully directs it. He grew up in Jackson and was best friends with the book’s author, Kathryn Stockett. It’s a crowd pleaser, and I hope its sure spot in the Oscar festivities will draw a good number of people to pay attention who might not otherwise. I don’t, however, wish for it to win Best Picture.

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