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Saturday, March 3, 2012

"The Help", Oscars bound Disney's tale on racism

The Help
The problem with movies like "The Help" is that time has taken a toll on them. Luckily. Thanks mainly to the actors performances, its a recommendable film to watch, wtih a few elements worth to highlight. But it wants to please everyone so desperately it almost looses the point, that is, the story. Which was, as we all know, very far from this Hollywoodesque tale.

"The Help" is a curious mixture of tones and styles. It tries to add a new take on a subject already seen, but some combinations seems odd and too forced. Visually, and initially shocking, it all looks like a 50's Douglas Sirk movie. Very soon we realize, its not a matter of aesthetics, director Tate Taylor is not only trying to recreate a very particular Jackson, Mississipi, but uses the same treatment for characters. At least for "white" characters. An army of barbie-dolls, with the extreme caricature of Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly. The evil witch of Disney's movies, materialised into the self-proclaimed leader of a flesh and blood bunch of housewives. This might be an original perspective for a very sensitive material, but I'm afraid Taylor uses only to approach racism in a very lightweight way. Something that seriously harms the film.

Because the mixture between comedy and social drama doesn't always work. I know, not every film has to be as plaintive and sharp (and absorbing) as Spike Lee's "Bamboozled", or violence doesn't have the main issue, as "Mississipi Burning", but "The Help" decides to hide almost hide it, and when the threat, in the sense of a domestic threat between housewife and maid has to explode, it is done in a comic way. Wasting an actress like Sissy Spacek for a couple of fun scenes is a shame. It also doesn't help this is a female movie. Male characters are just sketches (some of them are not even on screen), which is an ok decision... except for the fact this film intends to portray Southern societies in a time of changes, so it is an obviously incomplete picture.
Fortunately, as I said, there are elements to enjoy and praise on "The Help". Acting gives the film a much needed impulse in order to not become an indigestible TVMovie. Viola Davis is strikingly good in her role as Aibileen Clark. She is almost the only depth character in the film, and she does wonders with it, sometimes condensed in just a facial expression. She represents the difficult, slow change/then rebellion against an unacceptable system. Linked to her is of course Skeeter's character, also convincingly portrayed by Emma Stone. I praise director Taylor for shifting the focus from the usual white, compassionate, heroic "WASP"  it seemed to be, replacing it for a credible, confused young woman unhappy with her Southern environment, becoming the vehicle of expression of the real, meaning character. The awakening of a collective, finally making their voice heard. Of course, a worthy mention has to be made about also to Oscar winner's Octavia Spencer in her role as Minny, funny counterpoint, that shines every second she's on screen. Allison Janney and Jessica Chastain ("The Tree of Life"), as Skeeter's mother (although in my opinion she's grossly "saved" to line up along the "good ones") and Celia Foote, deserves some recognition for their work. 

"The Help" has too many issues to be even considered an unforgettable movie. On purpose, everything is settled to remain in the mild margins of the real story. It's entertaining, and thanks to the acting, mostly enjoyable (luckily there's no Whoopi Goldberg here), but tries too hard not to offend anybody, finally becoming inoffensive.

SCORE: 6/10

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