An aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960s decides to write a book detailing an African-American maid’s point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis. Find out more in the review of The Help.
Business rating: 1.5 / 5 stars
Star Cast: Viola Davis, Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard.
What’s Good: The well-written screenplay; the dramatic confrontations between the primary characters; the situational comedy in the last reels of the film.
What’s Bad: The slow pace of the movie and the over-120 minutes of running-time; the fact that the script revolves around a small group of females only and never goes beyond it.
Verdict: The Help is a good drama with very limited appeal for the Indian audience.
Loo break: A couple.
Watch or Not?: Watch it for the performances.
Reliance Entertainment, DreamWorks Pictures, 1492 Pictures and Harbinger Pictures’ The Help is a drama based against the backdrop of the US civil rights movement of the 1960s.
In Mississippi, discrimination against blacks is rampant and both, black men and black women, are forced to do menial jobs. A black house maid, Aibileen (Viola Davis), starts telling the story of her discrimination to her housekeeper’s best friend, Skeeter (Emma Stone). Skeeter, a white, is a rookie journalist and wants to write a book about the exploitation of black maids – about them being treated as second class citizens, being fired at will and even made to use separate toilets.
Aibileen tells Skeeter what she has been through, all her life, and also how her young son was murdered. But Skeeter wants more maids to tell their stories as it is a demand being made by her prospective book publisher from New York. Aibileen’s boisterous maid-friend, Minny (Octavia Spencer), joins them by sharing her own story. Now, Skeeter needs more maids to join the cause.
Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), a white high-society woman and organiser of social causes, smells a rat in Skeeter and Aibileen’s motives and makes sure that the ageing Aibileen is fired from work by her mistress. She also fires Minny, her own maid, when the latter uses her toilet. Hilly makes sure that Minny is not hired elsewhere either. Thankfully, Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain), a clumsy but well-meaning white newly-wed, hires Minny.
What happens then? Is Skeeter able to get more maids to tell her their heart-rending stories? Is she able to publish her book? What about Aibileen and Minny’s jobs? What about the discrimination against black maids? The rest of the film answers these questions.
The Help Review: Script Analysis
Tate Taylor’s screenplay, based on the eponymous novel by Kathryn Stockett, is very well-written as it manages to depict the going-ons in a small community of black maids and white housewives in an interesting and engaging manner. The writers tell the tale in a very nuanced form but put the issue on an even keel, indulging in the characters’ emotional reactions, rather than making them objects of the audience’s love or hatred. Having said that, it must be added that all the women’s characterisations, especially those of Minny and Celia, are very entertaining. Also, the emotionally-charged interactions between Skeeter and Aibileen on the one hand and between Hilly and Skeeter on the other, are well-written and executed. The climactic portion, which has some situational comedy, brings a smile to the viewer’s lips.
On the flip side, the film moves at a very leisurely pace most of the times. Moreover, since it concentrates only on a limited group of females, the lay Indian audience, which expects different things from a film, is bound to be disappointed. The excessive running time (more than 120 minutes) is another negative point. Skeeter’s short-lived romance with a young lad seems rather forced.
The Help Review: Star Performances
Viola Davis does a restrained and very effective job as the maid, Aibileen. Her performance is award-winning. Emma Stone does a fine job as Skeeter. She looks her character and delivers in the crucial dramatic scenes. Bryce Dallas Howard (as Hilly) is very effective. Octavia Spencer (as Minny) is the pick of the lot for her energetic performance. Jessica Chastain (as Celia Foote) is vulnerable, as required. Allison Janney (as Skeeter’s mother) stands out in a short role. Ahna O’Reilly, Anna Camp and others support well.
The Help Review: Direction & Technical Aspects
Tate Taylor’s direction is sensitive. He has been able to extract very fine performances from his cast, and in spite of the length of the film and the slow pace of the narrative, he keeps the audience engaged in the drama which is based on the socially relevant issue of colour discrimination. Thomas Newman’s background score takes the director’s vision forward. Stephen Goldblatt’s cinematography is praiseworthy for its immense contribution to the storytelling. Editing, by Hughes Winborne, is alright.
The Help Review: The Last Word
On the whole, The Help is a fine movie for connoisseurs of good cinema and for the festival circuit audience. The film may have gone on to become a sleeper hit in the US but it cannot expect such patronage in India. In fact, it won’t be able to make any mark in India.