Monday, August 22, 2011

Film Review: The Help (2011)

The Help (2011)
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 146 min
Genres: Drama

Emma Stone as Eugenia 'Skeeter' Phelan (Our Main Heroine)
Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark (Heroine)
Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly Holbrook
Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson (Heroine)
Jessica Chastain as Celia Foote (Another Heroine, but Red Hot and Drunk)
Ahna O'Reilly as Elizabeth Leefolt
Allison Janney as Charlotte Phelan
Anna Camp as Jolene French
Eleanor Henry as Mae Mobley
Emma Henry as Mae Mobley
Chris Lowell as Stuart Whitworth
Cicely Tyson as Constantine Jefferson
Mike Vogel as Johnny Foote
Sissy Spacek as Missus Walters
Brian Kerwin as Robert Phelan

I took Mom and Main Lady out to see The Help last Saturday night, and it was the smartest money I'll spend on a film this year. As usual, Roger Ebert disagrees with me, but I think his discomfort is due to some preternatural sense of guilt over his being a white, wealthy celebrity whose feelings are catalyzed by a dysfunctional digestive tract.  How do you like that, Roger?  (I'm thinking of retitling my film reviews as Roger 'n Me, but I'm afraid of lawsuits.)  Enough.  Here's my opinion, without spoilers.

The film takes place in Jackson, Mississippi right in the middle of the 1960s.   The civil rights movement is getting as hot as August - maybe as hot as Jessica Chastain in the low cut Southern style outfits she likes to wear.  In the middle of all this Eugenia 'Skeeter' Phelan returns home from College with a degree in one hand and no diamond ring on her finger, nor any prospect of getting one.  Being intelligent, bored and filled with Yankee ideas about independence, she lands a job with the local paper and, on a whim, begins working on a book.  Her book is going to be about the African American servants hired by the White families as domestic help.  Truly a noble endeavor, but much to her surprise no one (that is, none of the domestic servants) will talk to her about what life is like when you're black in Jackson, Mississippi and working as unskilled labor.  There isn't a labor union, either.  Eventually one maid talks and others join in.  The stories they tell are great and are complemented by the events of everyday life.

The casting for this film is perfect. Here's a tip of the fedora and a hoist of my bourbon glass to Kerry Barden and Paul Schnee for doing an excellent job.  Although all the acting was absolutely stellar, what I didn't notice until much later is that the actors truly look the parts.  That kind of thing only happens when the casting is great.

I particularly enjoyed Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer.  Jessica plays a social pariah who is truly goodhearted but who likes to drink.  Actually, there isn't much Jessica's character doesn't like to do, which leads to several hilarious scenes that the actors bring off with comedic timing that is only found with older, polished comedians. 

I won't write more about the film as I do not want to spoil the experience for anyone.  I rate this one as a 10 out of 10 on Mad Jack's Scale of Screen Excellence.  Don't wait for the DVD, go and see it in the theater and take your main lady with you.


Capt. Schmoe said...

The saint and I are due for a night out, this film might just fit the bill.

I have heard some criticism from various groups regarding this film, mainly on the white savior / black oppressed victim theme. I don't know if that is a valid complaint or not I guess that I will find out.

Thanks for the review

Mad Jack said...

Thanks for reading, Capt. I've never heard that criticism as yet, but then I don't read film critics very often. Let me know if you think it's valid.