Tuesday, 16 August 2011

The Help


Dir: Tate Taylor (Pretty Ugly People)
Cast: Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, Chris Lowell, Aunjanue Ellis, Mary Steenburgen
USA/India/United Arab Emirates, 2011

Seen: August 12, 2011 at the AMC Y&D (#3) with my sister Jamie

Reason to see: It's the August selection for the Book to Film Club

The Help is based on the novel The Help by Kathryn Stockett, which was July 2011 Book Selection for the Book to Film Club and the impression it made on my from reading it is still very fresh in my mind. It was a stretch for me to read, as I don't normally go for historically set dramas that deal with racial tension and that's very much in the forefront of this 1960's set story of African American nannies & maids who work in white homes. I ended up loving the novel though, and was very much looking forward to the film adaptation although I wondered what on earth they would remove or truncate from the book as it's all so good.

I was impressed that the film retained so much from the book, following the lives and stories of the wise Aibileen (Viola Davis), mouthy Minny (Octavia Spencer), backwoods Celia (Jessica Chastain), ringleader Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) and the open minded Skeeter (Emma Stone), although the film arguably places Skeeter as the films protagonist, whereas the book feels more balanced between Aibileen, Skeeter & Minny. I think the film did to a great job of creating the very distinct time and place, the social pressures of conformity as well as the element of fear and limited options. I was very suprized that alongside these elements was the repeated use of comedy, even though it was clearly drawn from the book as well. It's really hard to separate out the book reading and film experience, and although it took a much lighter tone and picked different threads to emphasis than I would have chosen it was interesting to see the story though a different eye.

Although the film is in general very faithful to the book, I was very surprized that it softened a lot of the moments and characters, especially the fact that it makes it clear cut who is in the right and who is in the wrong. I think it's a bit ironic that it makes everything black & white in terms of the issues and the characters. It's clear cut on how the audience is suppose to react to every character and situation: who you are suppose to cheer for & who to are suppose to hate, who to empathize with & who to feel gets what they deserve. There is no grey. And that's the one thing that literally doesn't hold true to the book, which dealt with the layers of grey on several levels as well as the fact that people can change. I can appreciate that it's harder to deal with those more murky waters in film, I wish something had been there even if it was to just show the gradual come to change in someone's mind. Without growth of character in this way, it's hard to buy into the idea that people and society would (and did) changed.

Overall I felt it was a powerful film, an interesting adaptation and I enjoyed several of the strong performances, particularly Viola Davis & Emma Stone. I oddly loved how it was very much about the women, with the few male characters being peripheral at best. I think it's an enjoyable film, but I wanted and expected more. I would easily recommend it but would highly encourage people to read, enjoy, learn and appreciate the book first.

See also: The Help DVD/Blu-Ray Review

Shannon's Overall View:
I thought it was good, but the book was way more powerful
I'd watch it again
I'd recommend it fans of important, humans rights centred dramas

Also see: 2011 Book to Film Adaptations, 2011 Book to Film Club and All Film Reviews

© Shannon Ridler, 2011


1 comment:

Leah/ Defy the Box said...

Thanks for this review!
I read the book at the beginning of the summer...flew right through it... and wondered how they would do turning it into a movie.

It is powerful material and I'm curious to see how they are going to represent the characters....make them likeable or not...or create some conflict in consciousness around the whole thing.

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