Friday, February 10, 2012

Touching new film needs no ‘Help’

The HelpPRELUDE: The Help has been a favorite of critics and audiences alike since its original release. Favorable buzz about the film has paid off, and several Oscar® nominations have come its way. A Best Picture nomination was announced for the film , and a well-deserved honor it is. Viola Davis received a Bes Actress nod or her role as a maid in this Southern comedy-drama. Two terrific actresses took home nominations as Best Supporting Actress---Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain.

REVIEW: During the Golden Days of Hollywood, The Help would have been called a ”weepie.” Not so today as it touches on the raw nerves of anybody who has been wrongly used or is downtrodden socially and economically. The stunning new film, adapted from the best-selling novel of the same name by author Kathryn Stockett, is set amid the explosive racial politics that occurred in the 1960s South. Also, one of the best things going for the film is its all-female cast,(with only minor male roles) much as was the fashion in 1939’s The Women. But there is no similarity between the two films, other than both having terrific female stars.

Stockett’s book became a huge selling hit in 2009 and was on top for two years. People enjoyed it and couldn’t put it down once they started reading it. It hit #1 on the New York Times best seller list. All it needed was for someone to make it into a movie. Along came Stockett’s best friend actor/director Tate Taylor, who was white and Southern. But he understood the ways of the Old South and furiously wrote the script and enlisted producer Chris Columbus for guidance.

Young Emma Stone is climbing her way to the top of the film heap. With this film, she achieves major stardom as Skeeter Phelan, an ambitious and independent young white gal who sees injustice right in her own hometown of Jackson, Mississippi. She wants to become a journalist and needs that one break and a great idea to work her way into the competitive world of newspapers and magazines. With an observant and critical eye, she is upset by the lives of all the black maids who work for the rich white families and have done so for generations. She wants to know how they feel and what they think. Stone has the right amount of spunkiness and youthful enthusiasm that gives her character just the right touch of inquisitiveness and gumption to tackle a secret writing project. She forms an unlikely friendship with three black maids and breaks all societal rules at the time. She wants to hear their stories and write down their thoughts. A shocking event, to say the least, in those bigoted days before Civil Rights.

Actress Viola Davis plays Aibiline and Octavia Spencer is Minny, two extraordinary black women who form a bond with Skeeter as well as an inspiring sisterhood that puts them all at risk. Ms. Davis, who was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar ® for Doubt, seems a likely candidate again for her touching and heart-breaking role. She dominates the screen even though Ms. Spencer gives her a run for her money as the funny, angry, and opinionated Minny. She,too, may be accepting Academy Award® kudos for her rendering of an emancipated woman when there was no emancipation.

The film is not all tears and drama. There is quite a bit of comedy in the story as provided by the wonderful Bryce Dallas Howard as a spoiled, rich Southern girl who finally gets her comeuppance from a vengeful Minny. Also providing laughs is newcomer Jessica Chastain (Tree of Life ) an outcast white girl who can’t seem to crash the  dainty Southern Belle ladie’s bridge club. She plays a gal who is obviously white trash but who has married well. She’s a scream and does her imitation of Marilyn Monroe unconsciously well. And need we say Allyson Janney’s appearance as Skeeter’s tired, resigned mother is a gem of a portrait? She may be sick and dying, but she rallies after a lifetime of Southern bigotry to realize she may have been wrong. As part of an extraordinary ensemble cast, Janney adds to the class and style of the film’s acting.

There is no doubt this is the best ensemble acting of any film so far this year. If Oscars® could be given for ensemble acting, The Help would win with no contest. Don’t miss it! Walt Disney Studios.
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