Monday, February 13, 2012

The Help

“No one had ever asked what it feel like to be me.” These are the words of Aibileen Clark, a black maid—brought to vivid life by Viola Davis—whose painful story provides the basis of The Help. If only it had the courage to tell her story, this movie might have been remarkable. Instead, despite several soulful performances, The Help is Hallmark-style comfort food. Set in a small Mississippi town in the pre-Civil Rights ‘60s, the film introduces a slew of characters and plotlines coalescing around central themes of racial injustice. I had a hard time following names (except Aibileen), so please bear with me as I try to make sense of the various subplots. First, you have the young white girl (Emma Stone) who decides to interview Aibileen and other maids for a book she's hoping to have published. Her story is complicated by a strained relationship with her insecure mom (Allison Janney), who lacks the backbone to stand up for what is right. Meanwhile, an unrelenting racist bitch (Bryce Dallas Howard) will stop at nothing to stand in the young white girl’s way from telling the maids’ stories. On the other side of town resides a sweet white girl (Jessica Chastain) wants to fit in with other white girls but finds connecting with her maid (Octavia Spencer) much easier. I’m sure there are a few I am forgetting, but you get the idea.
Writer-director Tate Taylor ostensibly wants each of these stories to illuminate a different shade of a larger, more significant patchwork narrative. But none of these threads resound as deeply as Aibileen’s and those of the other maids. There is a deeply moving scene late in the film that illustrates the film’s misguided focus and failed potential. After struggling to find maids to go on record for the book, Stone’s character walks into Aibeleen’s house and finds it full of women wanting tell their stories. It has a raw power that resonates within the context of the previous scenes and also as a broader statement of courage. But the moment is fleeting, since the movie then depicts the telling of the stories in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it montage, presumably in effort to push on to resolutions for the other plotlines.
I initially had reservations toward The Help taking a painful story and turning into inspirational fluff. But come to think of it, I would have settled for inspirational fluff if it were actually about Aibileen. Alas, merely telling us that certain stories need to be told is not enough. You have to tell the story. Only then can we know what it feels like to be Aibeleen or any other of the maids whose stories are glossed over by The Help. (Tate Taylor, 2011) *½

1 comment:

lesli said...

Enjoyed your review of this film, as it is a extremely different view than most I've read. Thought I'd share with you a new film coming out this month that I recently found out about & reminds me of this movie. Deadline is based on a true southern story & novel, but is an independent film starring Eric Roberts & Steve Talley. It tells the story of an unsolved decades old racially motivated murder in a small rural town. When a young aspiring journalist decides to investigate the case himself against warnings from everyone, things begin to change. Watch the trailer at - I think you may enjoy this one more than The Help! Thanks again for your post.