Review – The Help

It’s hard to imagine a time when people were forced to use separate bathrooms and water fountains because of the colour of their skin. If an alien race passed through our galaxy and spied this blemish on human history, it would warrant an invasion as punishment. The sad truth is, it happened, and ‘The Help’ is a snapshot of racial tensions in America during the 1960s, through the eyes of African American housemaids.

Skeeter (Emma Stone) is fresh from university and wants to become a writer in her home town in Mississippi. She’s inspired to interview local African American women about their experiences, after learning of an initiative to make it compulsory for every white home to have a separate bathroom for the hired help. Housemaids Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer) come forward and share their stories, which become a source of inspiration for change in the town.

The cast is more than an ensemble, it’s a sisterhood. The boys take a backseat and ‘The Help’ is fuelled by girl power. Leading the charge is Stone, who drives the film with charm and wit – she has a knack for picking roles that are perfect and ‘The Help’ is a fine example. Davis and Spencer make a great team and keep the film emotionally charged, providing many heartbreaking and feel good moments. Bryce Dallas Howard channels the Wicked Witch of the West and Nurse Ratched (from ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’) as a vile housewife, while Sissy Spacek revels in the fun of playing her crazy mother. Just when you think the cast couldn’t get any better, Jessica Chastain pops up and claims the title of queen bee. Her performance as a bimbo housewife is a highlight and every scene she’s in is delightful.

The costumes and set design are spot on and recapture the 1960s in fine detail. Fashion enthusiasts; be prepared to go on a shopping spree afterwards (partners get ready for the credit card bill).

The story is uplifting, but unfortunately the execution is a bit of a mess. Too much sub-plotting detracts from the narrative and director Tate Taylor can’t decide what film he wants to make, so he just crams in as much as possible. Storylines fly all over the place and the number of characters starts to stack up until all interest is lost. To make matters worse, this expands the run time to over two hours, which is too long.

‘The Help’ should have been better and has all the traits of Oscar bait, but it’s really just an ordinary chick flick. It’s far better than any of the girly stuff on offer from Jennifer Aniston or Katherine Heigl, but not worthy of the awards hype it’s getting.

2.5/5

Disney

‘The Help’ is now showing in US and opens in Australia on September 1 2011.

The Popcorn Junkie

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