Written and Directed by: Tate Taylor, based on the novel of the same name by Kathryn Stockett
Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sissy Spacek, Jessica Chastain
“Separate but equal” was created by white people to make white people feel better about racism. So was The Help. Skeeter (Emma Stone) is a young white woman recently home from college who begins to interview black women about their work in white homes in an effort to capture their perspective and expose the treatment these women endure. Director Tate Taylor pulls every punch in this story that plays too freely with stereotype and refuses to look directly at the issues at hand.
Set in the early 1960s during the days of the Jim Crow laws The Help talks the talk of a movie that is going to blow the doors wide open on America’s history of racism, but it opts to trivialize the plight of black domestic workers and refuses to properly villainize those who deserve it. Taylor glosses over any real discrimination or pain and instead opts for cheap emotional chords such as the loss of a child or a black eye which strike just frequently enough to make the film appear more like a drama than a comedy. Issues of gender discrimination are hinted at, but almost always more as a punchline than as a legitimate social issue. Even the character of Mrs. Walters (Sissy Spacek), who is supposed to be suffering from some sort of dimentia is merely comic relief. The problem with a film like The Help is that it is dealing with a volatile and controversial issue(s), but it absolutely does not want to offend anyone.
Emma Stone, who I loved in Superbad (2007) and Zombieland (2009), is fine here as Skeeter though, through no fault of Stone’s, the character is so uninteresting and underdeveloped she could have been played by a mannequin. Octavia Spencer, as Minny, is a rather charming presence in the film and is at least very genuine in her portrayal of another underdeveloped character. Viola Davis, who devastated in a scene from 2008’s Doubt, here delivers a solid performance in a film that spends 146 minutes failing to make the point she was able to make so strongly in less than 8 minutes in that other film. Jessica Chastain, who was so impassioned and tender in The Tree of Life is a ditzy goofball housewife here. The Help squanders a talented cast on a script lacking any sort of chemistry and which is entirely devoid of guts. Watching this film is like sitting in a room with someone laughing uncomfortably at a conversation about a topic they would rather not discuss.