Review: The Help
PUBLISHED: 08:56 28 October 2011
Race, it’s a minefield, isn’t it? These days you don’t know what to say or think and, if you listen to David Starkey, we don’t even know who is black and white any more. So perhaps it isn’t hard to see why audiences in the States flocked to this nostalgic trip through the good old, bad old days of Deep South race segregation.
In Mississippi, in 1963, the issues of right and wrong were real simple and straightforward and this film, adapted from a word-of-mouth hit novel by Kathryn Stockett, isn’t about to challenge any certainties.
The good white woman, proto-feminist and aspiring writer Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone) decides that she wants to chronicle the lives of the noble, stoic black maids Aibileen Clark and Minny Jackson (Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer) but increasingly finds herself in conflict with the shrill, vacuous, bad white woman Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard).
As Skeeter starts on her project, the film ramps up the sense of danger (at that time in Mississippi, what they were doing could be punishable by long jail time).
Yet the menace is never felt, the brutal realities are almost always kept off screen.
Halfway through, I shifted from seeing The Help as being a race drama almost as dull and trite as Driving Miss Daisy to viewing it as a chick flick which was a lot better than the last Sex And The City movie.
It does the business effectively: it gets the ahs, the ohs, the laughs, the smiles, the sniffles and smudged mascara.
One of the maids gets her revenge on her cruel former employer with a fairly crude trick (spoiler – she bakes her pie from her own poo).
It gets referred back to all the way through the film and the audience react to it with delight each time. I doubt they would have been so delighted by Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne’s chat show recounting of him pulling the exact same trick on Jimmy Five Bellies Gardner.
You’ll tell me that the revenge of an historical oppressed minority cannot be compared to the mindless prank of indulged footballer. But, for me, a poo pie is poo pie regardless of historical context.
THE HELP (12A)
Director: Tate Taylor
Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain and Allison Janney.
Length: 146 mins