13/31: The Help
I give The Help sooo much credit; it won me over despite my utter determination to hate it. You can ask Couch Baron, to whom I spent a good ten minutes bitching on IM about the movie, why's it gotta be so loooooong, I didn't like the first version of The Blind Side I don't wanna watch anoooooother oooooone, it's not for yankees anywaaaaaaay, not everybody in the '60s South was a racist twat I geeeeet iiiiiiit — I sat down on the couch, folded my arms, and set my right eyebrow to Not Having It.
And it is simplistic, and it is pat in spots and pandering in other spots, and it does congratulate a handful of white people for doing the minimum suggested by the golden rule while demonizing a handful of others for their cartoonish bigotry, and it's a full-on Magical Black Woman convention. If you want to dismiss it, I feel you, and you won't have to look far for reasons.
But if you want to love it unreservedly, you won't have to look far for reasons to do that, either. The movie looks mouth-watering, first of all — the set design, the wardrobe, the unbelievably alluring platters of fried chicken, the watery blues and rooster reds in the kitchens, the heaviness of the hairstyles. The director, Tate Taylor, is newish, I think, but everyone inhabits the scenes fully; it doesn't feel like dress-up. Specifically, I'm remembering a split second in which a character hurdles some vomit on his way out of a room. That Taylor remembered where the vomit was and that it would be actual vomit to the character, and that he thought to have that happen, is smart.
It's the performances that'll get you, though, and I can't speak to the book because I haven't read it, but despite frequently inelegant execution, the script understands and (usually) loves its characters, and the actors have bought in down the line. Viola Davis as Aibileen is wonderful, but I was even more charmed by Octavia Spencer's Minny, Jessica "Not Improv; Still Everywhere" Chastain as Celia (her joyful shaking of the chicken was the moment that broke me down), Allison Janney walking a thankless tightrope, and most of all Sissy Spacek, who is having the time of her life. That Scene is overplayed and underwhelming, but the callbacks to it work, somehow (the check written to "Two Slice Hilly" slayed me), and Spacek's character just not giving a damn and laughing at everyone is played flawlessly. ("Run, Minny — ruuuuuun!") I wish Anna Camp had more to do, and the Skeeter character is predictable and kind of flat, though Emma Stone does a serviceable job with it — but on the other end of that, Bryce Dallas Howard gives a horrible, ugly character a shot of humanity that makes the ugliness more effective.
The Help is by-numbers, too long, and unable to resist the urge to overclose; the scene in the church towards the end, for example, is manipulative in the extreme, and unnecessary in the first place. Yet at the same time, you really feel the bond between Aibileen and Minnie in that moment, and Davis renders Aibileen's overwhelm just so.
I can see all the actors cancelling each other out come nomination time; I don't know how I'd choose, or for what categories. We can probably count on Davis, and you could see Chastain or Spencer on the slate, too. The movie itself, well…if you hate it, I don't blame you. But if you can't keep hating it, ditto.
Tags: 31 Days 31 Films Allison Janney Anna Camp Bryce Dallas Howard Couch Baron Emma Stone Jessica Chastain movies Octavia Spencer Oscars 2012 Death Race Sissy Spacek Tate Taylor The Help Viola Davis