Walking out of “The Help” left me with an odd grinding sensation inside my head, not unlike downing a lot of red Kool-Aid, or being in a particularly bland-smelling car for far too long. It’s afflicted with what I like to call “Blind-Side-syndrome”, which is to say, the unpleasant experience of an intimate African-American experience being filtered through a very distant, very white perspective.
“The Help” parades around for 150 minutes pretending to be what it’s furthest from — an authentic, meaningful story of an uphill racial battle. Some may find it inspiring. I find it more than a little sickening.
It’s a calculated showcase for talented people to show off how talented they are. “The Help” functions well as this. It’s an eclectic group of respected actresses, ranging from older black talent like Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, to young white women like Bryce Dallas Howard, “Tree of Life”s Jessica Chastain, and one of the most charming young women on the Hollywood scene — Emma Stone.
All five of these women give director Tate Taylor’s script punch and dramatic momentum, Stone in particular serving as an appropriately perky, inquisitive lead. The poor quality of the film is not to be blamed on these women.In fact, it’s not to be blamed on the film on any sort of technical level.
Visually, it’s quite proficient, with the 1960s-era costumes and decor often times approaching “Mad Men”-level authenticity. I don’t take issue with the way in which “The Help” was made — I object to the purposes for which it was made.
Stone is Skeeter, a freshly-graduated college student who returns to her quaint Southern hometown to eek out a job at a local newspaper. While doing this, Skeeter notices the black housemaids so frequently employed by local households lack access to a basic function — they can’t use the bathrooms in their employers’ homes. This inspires Skeeter to draft up an expose on the hardships these maids, or, ‘the help’, have to face on a daily basis.
It’s a testament to “The Help”s lack of focus that it will spend time doting over the actions of Skeeter and her interviews, then jump between one of its near-endless subplots including, if not limited to” the racist, villainous housewife Hilly, the lovable if unintelligent Celia, Skeeter’s dying mother, Hilly’s dying mother, the maids Skeeter are interviewing named Aibileen and Minny, the potty training of a young girl Aibileen looks after, Skeeter’s book deal, Skeeter’s love interest, and an ongoing mystery as to why her childhood maid suddenly vanished. Yes, friends, this film is a dense one. But not dense as in actually complex, dense meaning disorganized and slipshod. Were it not based on a (highly, highly successful) novel, I’d assume it to be virtually improvised on the go.
“The Help” takes a vital issue, one still manifested widely throughout America today — intolerance — and sanitizes it for the easiest possible consumption, scrubbing out furiously any kind of thought-provoking, interesting ideas or themes. “The Help” should have felt like an bleeding, passionate project; an open letter recounting an abhorrent period in our nation’s history. Instead, it goes down like a gaudy, candy-colored flower bouquet. D