With a story that has as much going on as The Help, it’s important to cultivate characters individually while allowing the narrative to flourish. My main issue with Tate Taylor’s The Help was that it had some great acting and moving scenes, all of which was mostly overshadowed by melodramatic fluff.
In 1960s Jackson, Mississippi white families typically hired black maids to take care of their home and care for their children. Aibileen and Minny have worked for families in the area for a long time and have plenty of stories to tell. Young Skeeter has just returned home from Ole Miss and longs to become a writer. When she conjures up the idea to write a controversial book from the perspective of black women working for white families she asks for Aibileen and Minny’s help, despite the understood risk that is involved.
Viola Davis, Jessica Chastain and Sissy Spacek are dynamite on screen as they captured their roles (even when they are insubstantial) and give heart to their characters. Octavia Spencer was a great choice to play Minny, but sometimes she allows the part to become a caricature of herself. Unfortunately, their acting talent only highlights everyone else’s lack thereof as many members of the cast leave much to be desired.
Based on Kathryn Stockett’s book, the film version of The Help could only scratch the surface of the importance of these women and their lessons being told. At a lengthy runtime of 137 minutes, what they chose to film seemed intended for silly laughs and sappiness that in no way enhances the overall storyline. Furthermore, those who have read the book will be highly disappointed by a substantial plot change that deals with a turning point in the lives of Skeeter, her family and her beloved maid Constantine.
The Help isn’t trying to change anything or start another civil rights movement. It wants to tell a story with plenty of Hollywood charm that just so happens to be based on a best-selling book that deals with racial segregation. I won’t discount the certain amount of talent, but I can’t say I enjoyed how they went about telling the story.