The Help

Dir. Tate Taylor

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To be honest, I didn’t expect to like this movie.  The previews made it all look too pat and schematic, too comfortable in its moral superiority and too willing to push its sad historical particulars in the service of an easy ‘inspirational’ agenda.  You know, Hallmark Channel stuff.  And of course, one more example (among so, so many…) of Hollywood’s seeming inability to deliver a story about the struggle for racial equality without putting a white person at the center of it. 


After seeing The Help, I was not entirely convinced my initial concerns weren’t justified.  I think the critiques above can in fact be fairly leveled at the movie, to some degree.  It is indeed all pretty pat and easy. 


But…I also have to admit how much I actually enjoyed watching it.  The credit there goes simply to the actors:  the formidable Viola Davis (Abileen), who seems incapable of delivering a false word or gesture onscreen; Octavia Spencer (Minny), beneath whose lively humor runs a deep current of sad pragmatism; Allison Janney (Skeeter’s mom), a proven expert at playing all kinds of mothers, but especially sickly ones with lots of regrets but good intentions; and Jessica Chastain (Celia Foote), whose utterly charming, wide-open performance as an eager-to-please, somewhat ditzy young wife might look like an easy throwaway, until you look at the variety of other roles she played this year (in Tree of Life, Take Shelter, Coriolanus, and others) and realize just how remarkably versatile she is proving herself to be.  These performances are the reason to see the film.  Happily, three of the four were recognized with Oscar nominations—deservedly so.


© 2012 dondi demarco