Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Help

The Help - ***1/2

Directed by: Tate Taylor

Starring: Viola Davis, Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard

Review:  As a decade the 1960’s might just be unlike any other our country has seen (with the possible exception of the 1860’s).  Simultaneously, our country was moving forward with the progression of the civil rights movement, and yet backwards with those who refused to be a part of positive change for this country.  As you could imagine, such a decade is ripe for intriguing stories.

‘The Help’ uses the feeling of the times to create a microcosm of what the country was going through.  It is presented in a manner in which there is enough humor and light heartedness brought to the surface that we are not depressed by these times, rather encouraged by the ability of those living in it to persevere.

Living in small town Mississippi Skeeter (Stone), has returned home from college with intent of getting a job as a writer to gain some experience before moving to New York to live out here true dream.  From her first scene it is apparent that Skeeter sees the world differently.  The 1960’s still had the residual narrow view left over from the strictness of the 1950’s.  It was a touchy situation where the generation that was coming of age wanted to separate themselves, and the parents of that generation were struggling to understand why.

With a generation of people growing up and going to college as Skeeter did, a whole new way of thinking was opened up to them.  No longer were people to be judged by their lot in life or the color of their skin, but by who they were. 

I never had to grow up in such a tumultuous time.  I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to stand up and go against the established thought, even as ignorant as it was.  What’s even more remarkable about a character like Skeeter isn’t that she has “risen up” against that thinking, but that it wasn’t a choice, just her nature.  While this is most likely a vehicle for the story and seems more akin to a 21st century person transplanted in this era, the effect works.

The crowning achievement of this film involves the performances.  Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer show great depth and incredible heart in their roles.  Without being melancholy or overly dramatic they were able to capture both the heartbreak and the resiliency that was a part of the African-American culture of that time.  They don’t spend their time fishing for our pity.  They spend their time asking to be treated with respect.

As part of ‘The Help,’ they don’t even mind doing their job.  They just wish they get recognized for the job they do, instead of being looked at as if they are property of their homeowners.  Doesn’t seem like much but was a radical shift for the time. 

‘The Help’ is a movie that takes heavy themes and handles them with grace and a bit of humor.  It shows that this time in American doesn’t have to be looked upon as such a dark period for America.  While there were many horrible things that happened in this time, what came from it, with the civil rights movement, was one of the greatest things to happen to this country.  

That is what this film is about, not looking back or wallowing in the time, but looking forward at what’s going to be.  We have the advantage of foresight to know that it does get better for African-American’s than it was in the 60’s, and that only goes to hammer the effect home even more.

This film is definitely worth your time.

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