DIR/WRI: Tate Taylor • PRO: Michael Barnathan, Chris Columbus, Brunson Green • DOP: Stephen Goldblatt • ED: Hughes Winborne • DES: Mark Ricker • CAST: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard
In 2010, the only movie to retain the top spot of the US Box Office for three consecutive weeks was Inception. So far in 2011, the only movie to do the same is The Help. In a time when new movies are systematically knocking (one week) old movies from the #1 spot on a weekly basis, how is it this explosion-free, period drama managed to stay up there so long? Much like the plot of the movie itself, so much can be achieved with word of mouth.
Set in the ’60s, The Help tells the story of Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan (Emma Stone), who returns to Mississippi from her New York college with the hopes of being a writer. Faced with the daily accounts of racism and inbred hatred, Skeeter decides to write a book detailing the African American maid’s point of view on the white families they work for, with the help of Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer), who must do so in secret, or they’ll be promptly fired from their homes and will never be hired as help again.
Against the backdrop of Hurricane Camille, John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King, The Help tells a huge story but in a very intimate setting, mostly just a group of ladies talking in a kitchen. The ’60s are perfectly realised, and the constant sense of oppression and revolution can be felt throughout. The tone is kept mostly light, with a lot of comic relief, provided mostly by Minny and her new boss Jolene (Anna Camp), who treats her new employee more like her new best friend, much to Minny’s befuddlement.
But a film about topics such as these will have its darker moments too, and boy howdy, does this movie want to make you cry. Viola Davis’ character’s backstory, coupled with her tear-marked brave face and the cloying, heart-string pulling score will have you welling up, no questions asked. In fact, the movie is perhaps a little too manipulative; from that ever present ‘You Must Be Sad Now’ soundtrack, to Bryce Dallas Howard’s character Hilly, someone so boo-hiss worthy you’d swear that she stepped out from a Harry Potter novel with a snake tattooed on her arm.
But despite all this, and the almost two-and-a-half hour running time (which, honest to God, you won’t notice), this is still definitely a film worth seeing, if only for the Oscar®-worthy performances, and for the big smile it will undoubtedly leave planted on your face. Spread the word.
Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
The Help is released on 28th October 2011