Film Review: The Help

The Help is a tearjerker that is also immensely uplifiting. The drama is likely to move even the most hard-hearted of souls.

Out of college in 1960s Mississippi, Skeeter is determined to become a writer. Trying to think of a new and different idea for a piece, Skeeter decides to interview her best friend’s housekeeper about working as a maid. Talking to Aibileen highlights the difficulties faced by black workers employed by middle class white families in the segregated South. As Skeeter begins to interview more maids, her friendship with their white employers becomes strained…

Based on Kathryn Stockett’s novel, The Help is a well-crafted drama that goes for emotional impact. With a running time of almost two and a half hours, the film could have felt overlong. Thankfully there is enough to absorb viewers for the duration.

Director and screenwriter Tate Taylor adeptly weaves the narrative, developing characters that the audience can engage with. The Help features an ensemble cast and various narrative strands. These are each approached with consideration; the development appears natural rather than rushed. The film deals with a serious subject matter, but character and story development are not neglected.

The tone of The Help is immensely important in making it such a watchable film. The film ranges from poignant drama to light amusement. Given that the film is based on an emotive topic from a distinctive era, it would have been unsurprising if The Help had taken a very serious tact. The moments of humour make the film more enjoyable, and strike a good contrast to the film’s more emotional scenes.

The different representations in The Help are perhaps too easily categorised. Men do not get much of a look in; Tate Taylor’s film is all about the female characters. There seem to be some rather broad strokes in depicting the main characters as good and bad; Skeeter and Aibileen are beyond reproach, while Hilly can come across as cartoonesque in her villainy. Nonetheless, other characters show more layers, such as Minny, Mrs Walters and Elizabeth.

Performances are excellent from the ensemble cast. Emma Stone is bright as Skeeter, while Viola Davis brings heart as Abileen. Bryce Dallas Howard is fantastic as Hilly, and Octavia Spencer offers both humour and emotion as Minny. Elsewhere, Jessica Chastain is adorable as Celia, while Sissy Spacek is well cast as Mrs Walters.

The costumes and production design are superb in capturing the period. Music is also used effectively in the film. Overall, The Help is a well executed production. When the poignant moments arrive, viewers will find it difficult not to react emotionally.

The Help Trailer

The Help, based on the best-selling book by Kathryn Stockett, is released on 28th October 2011. I haven’t read the novel as I am allergic to books without illustrations, so I have no idea how the film adaptation will compare. Nonetheless, the film boasts a great cast which includes Emma Stone, Viola Davies and Jessica Chastain, fresh from her terrific performance in The Tree of Life. The trailer looks rather interesting; the film is obviously tackling a serious subject matter, but it seems as if there will also be some humour.