Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Help

I have not read the book but if it is half as good as the movie, and the books are usually better, then The Help jumps to the top of my must-read list.  The movie was absolutely the best movie I’ve seen in quite some time.  It gives me hope that Hollywood can still produce something of worth, even though most films released in this day and age are unimaginative drivel.

First and foremost, the cast for The Help is absolutely brilliant.  If Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer don’t garner Golden Globe and Oscar nods, they should quit giving them out.  Both actresses gave tour-de-force performances.  Davis, nominated for a best supporting role for a brief, but intense scene in Doubt, gave one of the finest acting performances I’ve seen in years.  Octavia Spencer has been in nearly 100 films and tv programs and I can’t imagine she has ever topped the effort for this film.  The women gave depth and humor to the key roles of Aibileen and Minny, the maids whose stories are the backbone of the film. 

The cast is filled with favorites.  The young, perky, Emma Stone, in her first quality “grown up” role, continues to grow as an actress.  Her Skeeter character is probably the lead, and she does a fine job, although she ends up taking a backseat to Davis and Spencer.  The talented Allison Janney, Oscar winner Sissy Spacek, and Cicely Tyson add veteran, massive skills to the cast.  Bryce Dallas Howard, Ahna O’Reilly, and Anna Camp round out the stellar cast.  One other actress really stood out – Jessica Chastain as Celia Foote.  Chastain stole nearly every scene she was in.

The plot is clear and patient.  Nothing is rushed in telling this important tale from our not-so-distant past.  It is a story of life in the early sixties (and, essentially, the decades leading up to those tumultuous years) in Jackson, Mississippi.  It gives us a glimpse into the Jim Crow South.  It also shows us the strength and humanity of those forced to endure life in that racially discriminate time and place.  Stone’s Skeeter is ultimately looking to advance her career but finds her footing as she comes to accept that the lifestyle in which she has been raised is inherently wrong.  She must battle the prejudices of her friends and family and the fear prevalent among the people whose stories she’s trying to tell.  Davis’ Aibileen and Spencer’s Minny are the true heroes of the story as they find the strength, courage, and trust to tell Skeeter about the travails of the life they are forced to lead.

Director and writer Tate Taylor is wondrous in his care of this story.  Again, I can see no way he is ignored come award season.  He maintains a steady and interesting pace throughout the film.  He mixes humor and drama in just the right amounts and places.  Despite dealing with a grave and somber topic, he doesn’t shy away from the everyday humor that resides in the everyday lives of us all.  It is a great film that can cause a theater full of people to laugh out loud throughout the movie, yet bring tears to our eyes in numerous instances.  This movie is funny, but never silly, dramatic, but never sappy.

In the year filled with highly entertaining, yet substance lacking films, The Help is by far the best film of 2011.  I hope that by the end of the year, as award nominations are handed out, this film is not ignored or forgotten.  It is truly a terrific film on all levels – writing, directing, and acting.  I can’t say enough good things about this incredible production.  While this movie could be safely viewed by all but the youngest children, I doubt kids under 14 or 15 will find it interesting.  Find time to go see this movie.  It is worth the ticket price.  Let’s show the studio execs that if they make a great movie, we will come.  Movie makers take note – CGI and special effects don’t make a movie great.  The powers that be in Hollywood need to all be forced to sit down and view this film just to be reminded what a real movie looks like.

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