The Help (2011)
Director: Tate Taylor
Cast: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer
My Rating: ★★, or 4/10.
In Short: Pathetic and pitiful; one of the worst films of 2011
The Help is the kind of movie that I don’t hate, but I pity. It is weakly written, not exceptionally directed and tells a story that is not particularly enjoyable or satisfactory. The one thing it has going for it is terrific acting, but even then after a while the actors begin to become unbearable, particularly the awfully one-dimensional Bryce Dallas Howard. It has to be one of the worst films released in 2011.
It is based on the true story of several African-American servants in the 1960s, who are treated with contempt and indifference by their wealthy white “superiors”. There is Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) and Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), who work for the bitchy and overruling Hilly Holbrook (Howard). That is, until Minny is fired for using the family bathroom. Minny’s act of vengeance, which is supposed to be funny, is lame and out-of-place, a lowlight of a film that is already boring enough.
Films that deal with racism rarely do it right. They seem to consider it an issue that once awareness of it is spread, it can be swept under the rug and forgotten about it. Issues of prejudice and hatred are much more complicated than this, and The Help stumbles over itself, ludicrously pulling out any number of clichés about “overcoming racism” until you feel exhausted and insulted.
Not only does it treat its subject and characters terribly, it is also incredibly boring and overlong. I could easily see myself giving this film 6, even 7/10 if it were an hour shorter, but at 150 minutes, it overstays its welcome by miles, and drives you to the brink of exhaustion. Viola Davis is perhaps the movie’s only highlight, and it is because of her that the film is even remotely bearable. But despite her excellent acting, her character is so badly written that it is embarrassing. The same goes for Jessica Chastain, whom I’ve always liked, but really pissed me off here, in her role as one of the – groan – “good white people.” Emma Stone, who is the protagonist, also becomes boring and almost unlikable by the end, and after two hours, Bryce Dallas Howard made me want to shoot myself.
So yes, I pity The Help. It is obviously a movie that was not made lightly, but tried seriously to tell a true story of an important subject. I was not surprised to discover it failed miserably. Seven years ago, Paul Haggis’ Crash failed because it had similar problems: terribly written characters, a thin and pathetic plot and an exhaustively boring running time. Perhaps, hopefully some day soon, an accurate, interesting and moving film about the treatment of African-Americans in suburban America in the 60s will be made, but one thing is for sure: The Help is not it.