The Helpby Wilson Morales
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Director: Tate Taylor
Screenwriter: Tate Taylor, based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett.
Cast: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Lowell, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney, David Oyelowo, Aunjanue Ellis, Cicely Tyson, and La Chanze.
Based on the best selling novel by Kathryn Stockett, Tate Taylor’s adaptation of ‘The Help‘ is one of the fewest faithful transitions from book to screen in 2011. With powerful performances given by Viola Davis and scene stealer Octavia Spencer, the film is an emotionally, moving drama that remains highly entertaining. Despite the unbalance direction and tone of the film, each of the actresses should earn kudos and accolades by the end of the year.
Set in Jackson, Mississippi during the early 1960s, Emma Stone stars as Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan, a society girl who returns from Ole Miss College looking to be the opposite of childhood friends. Instead of looking for a husband who will take of her care, she’s set to become a writer but doesn’t know where to begin or what to write about.
She then gets a job at a local newspaper in the “Miss Myrna” column, which she writes about cleaning advice for her community. With the approval of her friend Elizabeth (played by Ahna O’Reilly), Skeeter is allowed to have Elizabeth’s housekeeper, Aibileen (played by Davis) “contribute” to her column. When Skeeter learns from her mother (played by Allison Janney) that Constantine (played by Cicely Tyson), the maid she grew up with, is no longer around, that her mother is withholding information as to her departure, she decides to write a book on the maid, from the perspective of Aibileen and other maids.
Initially reluctant to help Skeeter with her book in fear of her job, future work, or backlash from others, Aibileen agrees to give her enough dirt to start with when she sees one more wrongdoing done to her fellow colleagues by rich socialite Hilly Holbrook (played by Bryce Dallas Howard). Along with sassy and headstrong maid Minny (played by Spencer), they embark on revealing the true meaning of the word ‘the help’ when it comes to the South.
While Emma Stone may be the protagonist of the film, it’s the story from the maids and the performances from the ensemble that stand out. In some areas, Stone seems out of her league when paired with some of the actresses. As expected Davis, along with Sissy Spacek, bring in their A game and gives the maturity it needs to pull in the emotional strings. Spencer, a veteran character actor from many films, is a revelation. Given the right role and the right direction, she excels with her performance. She can make one laugh or cry. When Minny makes a statement regarding the cooking of chicken, the scene is a riot. She makes Minny memorable. Also worth mentioning is the suddenly ubiquitous Jessica Chastain. From ‘Tree of Life’ to this film to the upcoming ‘The Debt’ with Helen Mirren, Chastain has shown different ranges of her acting skills and with role as Celia Foote in ‘The Help,’ she brings in a heartfelt performance.
One drawback to the film is that some characters are just one-note, especially in the case of Howard’s Hilly. Her actions are really what draw the characters together, and while Howard plays the role with gust, there’s no balance to the character. It’s a cliché role we’ve seen before.
In the end, it’s the performances that shine through and make ‘The Help’ worth the price of admission.