Writer / Director: Tate Taylor
Stars: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer
The first thing you need to know is The Help is a women’s movie; male characters are almost completely absent from the screen. The second thing you need to know is that the film is predictable, but it still makes you feel good.
I have not read the book and have no idea how faithful the film is to it, but the screenplay is decent. At its simplest form, the story is about the courage of three women–a white southern society girl returning from college and two black servants–writing a book and sharing their stories about the black female servant experience in the racist world of 1960’s Jackson, Mississippi. The main issue is there seems to be a lot going on–a lot of characters with a lot of different story lines. Also, the major event that results in the first stories being told is a weak plot point. We are lead to sympathize with one servant by hearing how she & her husband have saved for years for their twins to go to college but are short some money. When she asks her employer for assistance she is quickly denied. Later she discovers a diamond ring underneath the sofa and pockets it. No matter how remorseless the antagonist, she is in her rights to have the servant arrested for theft when she discovers her ring was sold at a pawn shop. In the end, the servant did do the deed and was correctly punished. Why would this be the motivating factor for Aibileen (Viola Davis) to start sharing with Skeeter (Emma Stone)? The servant was not framed. She did commit a crime.
The look and feel of the film is nice and sugar-coated. You never feel the danger the women are in for coming together & writing the book and the consequences for its publication. Again, the film is decent but not inspiring; you feel good but not motivated. I’ve been to a black church and have felt the energy of the minister, choir and congregation; though you saw that in the film, you didn’t feel it. There never was a sense of urgency; you always felt like everything was going to come out fine.
The great strength of the film is the acting. Emma Stone is fine, and Viola Davis & Octavia Spencer (Minny) shine. The supporting cast also greatly elevates the film. Bryce Dallas Howard (Hilly Holbrook) is an excellent antagonist, and Allison Jenny (Charlotte Phelan–Skeeter’s Mom) steals every scenes she is in.
If you are excited to see this film, then see it on the big screen. If you weren’t sure, then you can wait to rent it.