From time to time, I find myself drifting from having no interest in a film, to hesitantly checking it out for one reason or another. No factor forces my hand more than awards season (Thanks again for THE BLIND SIDE Oscar voters), so it was with trepidation I sat down to take in THE HELP.
My expectations might have worked in THE HELP’s favour – namely, they were low (I find that I’m often wary of movies based on pulp bestsellers). Happily, my low expectations were exceeded, not only by how handsome this film looks (Is Jackson, MS really that pretty lookin?), but also by the commanding performances put in by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. They play their parts as two women who live and work rather differently, but share a deep-rooted kinship that has been forged through the intolerance they continually face.
While THE HELP wanders over the obvious line a few times through the course of the story, it does a lot of things very right. Not the least of these right decisions, is the way in which it ducks the cliche of “White person helps black person overcome hardship”. The story structures itself in a way that has Skeeter striking the match, but ultimately relies on Aibeleen and Minny to stoke and tend to the fire. They and the other maids are the ones taking the risk and telling the tale, Skeeter is mostly there to document and spread the word.
While I enjoyed what Emma Stone brought to this movie, I was left scratching my head at the way the film tried to hand her status as “odd duck”. You know how most teen movies try to disguise the pretty girl by giving her overalls and a ponytail? In THE HELP, the filmmakers have tried to separate Stone from the heard by giving her an odd head of curls which never looks right. Stone gives Skeeter the perfect amount of pluck – she didn’t need ringlets to help her achieve that.
The film is not without flaw – or obviousness now and then – but perhaps what works against it the most is its runtime. THE HELP is a rather unnecessary two hours and twenty minutes, and I cant hep but believe that the film could have trimmed off twenty minutes of white people.
The film is a showpiece for some of the best actresses working in film (watch for a firecracker performance by Jessica Chastain), and unexpectedly snaps beautifully on blu-ray. It’s proof that Viola Davis is one of the very best actresses in Hollywood, and that stories of social justice can come with a lot of dignity and grace.
So that’s the thing about awards season – it can point you towards some unexpected cinematic beauty. For some it might be smaller indie films that make for unexpected beauty; for me, it’s mainstream films that offer more than their poster promises.