Title: The Help
Play time: 2h 26min
Director: Tate Taylor
Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer
“The Good People Are Good, The Bad Ones Are Very Bad Indeed” – The Help (2011)
Lots of objections to this along the lines of “Thanks, white lady!” (to borrow the elegant paraphrase from Sean Burns) but those seem to me to be mostly bullshit: there is nothing inherently invalid about either a white perspective on the civil rights movement (though that’s not even what The Help provides, since said white lady is on screen for less than half the film) or acknowledging that good-hearted whites could and did help. Besides, there are plenty of other things to complain about here, such as the cookie-cutter characterizations and painfully obvious trajectory: the good people are good, the bad ones are very bad indeed, and in the end everyone fits neatly into the film’s view of a world filled with racists and nitwits on one hand, and courageous, color-blind strivers on the other. (See, e.g., Allison Janney, who seems at first to pretty clearly be a loving mother and a hideous bigot, but who by the end of the film has hand-waved away her history of the latter by intoning that “sometimes courage skips a generation.” Gotcha!)
The Help Film Summary
Otherwise, there’s a boatload of fine acting here, particularly from Octavia Spencer, Viola Davis, and The Tree of Life’s Jessica Chastain, totally unrecognizable. I must also note, with some awe and admiration, Bryce Dallas Howard, who has the most cartoonishly hateful role of the year and digs into it with downright intimidating gusto. Even at two and a half hours, the film is entertaining, as the forces of good inevitably triumph and the bad people get their comeuppance in perfectly Hollywood-satisfying ways. It’s all fine. I suspect you already know exactly what kind of movie The Help is, and whether or not you will enjoy it.