The Help (2011) [4/10]

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.

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Posted on February 10, 2012, in Movie Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. How did you not love this beautiful piece of contemporary movie majesty that is THE HELP?

    Tackles such diverse and poignant issues with prowess and affection, right?

    Disappointed in you Tyler.

  2. Sad that you didn’t like it, the backlash on this film has been quite bad. Ah well, if I’ve been told anything by any of the films in the past year, it’s that I don’t mind emotional manipulation.

    And trust me, this isn’t one of the worst films of the year 2011. To you, maybe, but remember you haven’t seen such masterpieces as Abduction, The Roommate, Trespass, Sucker Punch, The Hangover 2…in fact, don’t see those.

    • You’re right, those movies you mentioned are all probably worse. What I should have said was, “THE HELP is one of the most disappointing films of 2011.”

  3. So i see you were not a fan of this one 😉

  4. Boy, I used to think I was cynical but turns out I’m really just big old sucker for sentimental schmaltz.

    Your points are mostly valid, Tate Taylor is an inexperienced director, the story is not so much poorly written but rather formulaic and the racial issues are mawkish rather than powerful.

    But let’s be honest, what exactly were you expecting? It’s a big budget, mainstream American film with massive public response… of course it’s not going to dark and controversially hard hitting in its depiction of racism. While it may be so that America continuously misses the point by adding a glossy coat to its less than desired historical atrocities, the average cinema goer doesn’t want to sit and feel ashamed and/or horrified, they want to entertained and come out of the theatre imagining how they would be like Celia and not Hilly if it were them in that situation.

    It is true that it could only pander more to audiences by having Morgan Freeman narrate it, in fact The Help is to racism as The Shawshank Redemption is to prison. Yes, certain bad things happen in the South and in prison, but good people with good intensions and the help of good friends can come out of any situation with a positive outlook. But let’s face it I – and the majority of movie viewers – have seen Shawshank a shit load of times because, sentimental or not, it’s goddamn entertaining.

    Should people be insulted by this ‘Disney’ take on racism, the caricatures of Southern peoples? Maybe. Not many feel too shook up about it. Viola Davis seems pretty damn proud to be a part of it. Even all the critics seem to agree that the issue of racism is portrayed a little too saccharine yet in spite of this the majority continue to say that the positives outweigh the flaws. I have to agree.

    I admit I found it thoroughly entertaining. It was one of the shortest 146 min films I have ever seen, and I watched it late at night. The entire cast was fantastic. We’ve all heard how wonderful Viola Davis was (and she really was) but I also loved the rarely mentioned Sissy Spacek in her jocular supporting role.

    As for the one dimensional Hilly, could it not be debated that racists are one dimensional in nature? I detested her passive aggressive bigotry with a smile more than many other iconic racist characters in film. Hilly is most simply defined as a bully. By that definition I could understand your desire for more character development but for this particular film it was unnecessary. It is The Help, not Mean Creek. Eat shit, Hilly.

    Once again, as far as the candy coated theme of racism goes in this film it also helps to dwell on the fact that everything on screen seems diluted. For example, I have only ever had one openly racist encounter in my life. It was surreal, the initial shock of hearing what this guy was saying actually put me in a rigid state of disbelief followed by an intense discomfort but mostly it just left me bewildered as though my brain was telling me it can’t actually be happening although my ears were insisting it was. If I had seen this exact same exchange on screen I can honestly say it would most likely not affect me at all, in fact it could almost be played out for comic effect. Art imitates life but what most people forget is that life is truly affecting.

    Once again it is the great debate. Art vs. Entertainment. It goes without saying from viewing your blog that you favour the former, although again you could argue that art entertains you which only exasperates the debate further by having to defining art…but I digress. Call me bourgeoisie if you must but I expect to be entertained by a film at the very least. That’s not to say a film can’t be both, in fact they should be both. What this film lacks in technical finesse is saved by sheer entertainment value. And when it comes down to what’s really important in the film industry The Help is making bank. I would watch it again, which is more I can say for The Tree of Life which has its ‘artistic integrity.’ LOL, now I am back to being a cynic.

    In the end as the French say, “chacun son cinéma.”

    I rate The Help 7/10 and your rating is equally valid.

    • Once again, you have written a very convincing argument that has forced me to reexamine my own opinion of the film. But I stand by my opinion. I found THE HELP to be anything but entertaining. I thought it was witless, idiotic and boring, and far, far too long. But of course, all opinions are valid and I respect yours.

      Also, on the Art vs. Entertainment thing. Art does entertain me. If a film doesn’t entertain me, it’s not a good film. Granted, there are a few select films I think are great but from which I don’t gain any entertainment value whatsoever, but most films I like are ones that entertain me. I don’t prefer art to entertainment at all. I don’t have any preference of the two. I have simply had better experiences in general with ‘art’ films than mainstream ones that aim to entertain and not to intelluctually and mentally stimulate.

  5. Well said. This movie is a prime example of Oscar bait, and it really doesn’t feel all that different from a standard Lifetime movie. A lot of people seem to love it, but it just didn’t do anything for me.

  6. My daughter started watching this movie and quickly walked out — she seemed to think the character development was pitiful. I haven’t seen it myself. I have a high opinion of the novel. It isn’t an in-depth treatment of the subject of racism, by any means, but that’s O.K., because it’s telling a different story, if you know what I mean. It’s definitely not the more important story, but I found the main character’s coming of age, as she becomes aware of the outer layer of racism with which she’s lived all her life, interesting and engaging. I’ve avoided the movie, because it sounds awful. I’m guessing that like the book, it only touches on the outer layer of racism, but it lacks the book’s interesting writing and character development.

    • I would agree with your daughter: the character development is one of the biggest letdowns of the movie. I haven’t read the book, but I’m sure its much better and more thoughtful towards its characters.

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