‘The Help’ Review: An Otherwise Average Drama Carried by a Number of Great Performances
The Help is a nice change of pace as the summer movie season draws to a close. Dramas only seem to go one way or the other, either you care about the characters and plot or you don’t. When a drama falls flat it really falls because it can’t rely on special effects or bathroom jokes to at least entertain some people. Luckily The Help succeeds in being an effective civil rights tale set in the south, even if it isn’t a very creative one.
The true reason for the film’s success is the amazing cast. Emma Stone works well with this more dramatic material rather than her usual style of comedy. She is building a diverse career and has made her mark as a major Hollywood star. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are brilliant as the two main maids that Stone’s character interviews for her book. You understand them, laugh with them, and cry with them. They carry this story and make The Help as touching as it is. Bryce Dallas Howard’s role makes a run at Voldemort for best movie villain of the year. Luckily she gets what she has coming to her in one of the funniest moments I’ve seen all year at the movies. Other great performances come from Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney, and Sissy Spacek who all have notable supporting roles.
Thankfully the cast is so great because otherwise The Help struggles to maintain excitement throughout its two-hour plus running time. The story is interesting but it isn’t as well told as it could have been. The subplot involving Emma Stone’s character’s boyfriend is undeveloped and comes across as incredibly forced. Just by watching the film I can tell what some of the things they left out from the book might be. They would improve upon the story but the film is already overlong as it is. Another problem I had is that stylistically the movie is very boring. There is no interesting camera work or lighting here at all. The people who worked on the technical aspects of The Help either had a very boring job or aren’t good at what they do.
The Help is certainly a welcome movie amongst all the other, less ambitious projects coming out this month. It has a great story even if the filmmakers struggle to tell it as well as others may have. But the cast is truly amazing and make the film worth watching. I wouldn’t be too surprised if Viola Davis gets some attention during awards season. If you are willing to sit for the long run time, The Help will show you ensemble acting at its best. (*** out of 4)