The Help Review
During the weeks leading up to The Help (an adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's bestselling book), I will be honest and say that I thought this was just going to be another lazy white people saves black people film (ala The Blind Side). Luckily, I was in for a surprise. The film that actually came to my mind upon seeing The Help was The Shawshank Redemption. They have quite a few similarities. A cast comprised of mainly one gender (women for The Help). An African-American actor playing one of the leads. Said role being the actor's iconic role (This is definitely Viola Davis's best performance to date and I wouldn't be surprised if you start hearing her voice everywhere after this one like Morgan Freeman). A character worried about losing the setting they have known for all of their life. I could list a lot more but that would get into spoiler territory. I will say that the most important similarity The Help has with The Shawshank Redemption is that it is a powerful, well acted and tear-jerking film.
If there is one complaint I have with The Help it is that it starts off pretty slow. It has a huge cast of characters to introduce and it takes its time doing this. Fortunately, Tate Taylor (who wrote and directed this adaptation of his friend's novel) really has a handle on the material and makes sure the time spent in the long first act pays off in spades in the rest of the film. I don't think we will have a bigger breakthrough in the director's chair this year than with Taylor. His work is truly amazing and he really makes Jackson (the town in which the film takes place) a character as real as rest of the ones played by actors. His screenplay is also solid as it makes a cohesive story out of the many storylines that comprise this film. It deserves none of the controversy it is receiving from some parts of the film community.
Despite some great achievements from the creative team behind this film, the thing that makes this film sing is the cast. This ensemble is the greatest showcase of acting in a long time and the film really kicks in when the characters begin to interact with each other (especially when Jessica Chastain's character and Octavia Spencer's character begin working with eachother).
I will start off with the leads of the film. Emma Stone is the sturdy foundation of the cast. She doesn't get anything flashy, but she does everything she can to provide a viewpoint into this world for the viewers. She succeeds in doing so and continues her climb on the list of best young actors. Much has been said about the other lead in this film, Viola Davis, and all of it is deserving. She is great throughout the film as she is the perfect voice of the film and somehow is able to convey the very mixed emotions of weariness and hope that her character is supposed to. I would not have called her outstanding until the last scene of the film. I won't spoil it but I will say that Davis slays the scene and is the best acted scene of the year.
The relationship in the film that really gets this film going is of course that between Celia (Jessica Chastain) and Minny (Octavia Spencer). Jessica Chastain is the best in show. It was amazing how much she made you feel for this character and her tragic ordeals, but what puts her performance over the top is her chameleon-like change from The Tree of Life to this. She is unrecognizable. Octavis Spencer, meanwhile, will be the breakthrough actor (and crowd Favorite) from this film. She steals many of her scenes with her ability to portray confidence and sassiness.
The rest of the highlights from the cast are Bryce Dallas Howard (who portrays one of the best villains on screen this year), Sissy Spacek (who brilliantly plays Bryce Dallas Howard's over-the-top mother), Allison Janney (who provides much of the film's comedy at first but brings your eyes to tears by the end of it) and Cicely Tyson (who breaks your heart in two short sequences).
Notice how I did not mention any male actors. Another weakness of this film is its inability to write good male performances or have actors perform than with any talent whatsoever. I guess that is a step up though over the average film (which normally suffers with poor writing for female characters).
Despite some of these minor faults, The Help is the surprise of the year so far. I would not be surprised if this is referred to as a classic in the years to come.
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