Best Movies of All Time + [Viola Davis]

THE HELP

THE HELP-13

"Courage sometimes skips a generation. Thank you for bringing it back to our family."
-- Charlotte Phelan
The Help is 2011 drama directed by Tate Taylor based off Kathryn Stockett's novel of the same name that centers around the civil rights movement during the 1960s. After graduating from college, aspiring writer Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) returns home to Jackson, Mississippi and starts to see the normal day-to-day process in a different light. Growing up, Skeeter, like every other white child, was essentially raised by an African-American maid who worked for a very low wage. Every white family had such a maid, making it a commonplace theme throughout the community. Skeeter, however, begins to see the oppression that these maids face on a daily basis, so she decides to take action. After a bit of prodding, she manages to secure the help of two maids - Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) and Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) - to create a series of memoirs and stories chronicling the livelihood of a maid. Knowing that their activities are illegal, the trio meets in secret in order to comprise their novel, and their bewildering behavior starts to cause concern amongst some of the upper echelon of womenfolk in the community, namely Skeeter's mother Charlotte (Allison Janney) and the head of the Justice League, Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard).

The Help has been on my radar for quite a while now, and I've been meaning to see it since its initial theatrical run last summer. Now that it has garnered four Academy Award nominations, I figured it was as good a time as any to finally sit down and give it a view, and boy am I glad I chose to do so.

The film's screenplay is relatively straightforward in its method of storytelling, and it's this simplicity that gives the audience an opportunity to insert themselves into the storyline and the characters themselves. It's a familiar tale, the tale of racism and prejudice in the Southern United States. The subject has been tackled on dozens of occasions in cinematic past, but The Help manages to distance itself from its genre predecessors and create something a little bit different. Because the story itself is so simple, we as the viewer are able to focus on the characters, getting to know them on a very personal basis. The screenplay's biggest strength is the completeness of each individual character, from our leads down to our semi-major supporting characters. Each brings something a little bit different to the story and to the screen, and in a way, the film works just as well as a character study as it does a story of overcoming hardship and prejudice. In that sense, director and screenwriter Tate Taylor should be commended and applauded.

Fortunately, we have an all-star cast that manages to live up to the characters Taylor helped craft and create. Stone and Davis are fantastic as our leads, and although Davis has received much of the hype going into the awards season, a lot should be said of Stone's dramatic turn. She shows that she has the ability to bring a bit of range to her acting pedigree, and if she wasn't already on your radar, then you best be keeping your eye out for her in the future. Davis is quite the revelation, and she manage to steal this year's Best Actress award from the likes of Meryl Streep and Michelle Williams. And what can I say about the rest of the film's supporting cast? Bryce Dallas Howard is perfectly evil in her prejudiced role, bringing our main antagonist to life. Spencer, who has to be considered one of the front-runners in this year's Best Supporting Actress race at the Oscars brings a bit of drama and a bit of comedy to her role, making us laugh and cry alongside her all the way through. And I can't begin to say enough about Jessica Chastain, who managed to wow me for the second time in a month with her performance here. The cast truly is phenomenal.

Do I think that The Help is going to make a major splash at this year's Academy Awards? Probably not, although it definitely has a shot at its acting nominations. It's received quite a bit of critical acclaim, but word of mouth has ultimately worked far better for this film since it was released last summer. While it does have its moments where it delves into the sappy and melodramatic, there's enough power from the acting performances to carry this film through to its smile-worthy finale.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A-
2 Thumbs Up