Directed by Tate Taylor. Starring Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney. 146 mins.
In cinemas October 26
A WONDERFUL ENSEMBLE CAST ELEVATE THE EMOTION IN A WHITEWASHED RACISM-BASED DRAMA
A shrewdly popularized tale of racism in 1960s Mississippi, there was nothing subtle about Katheryn Stockett’s best-selling novel The Help, and in that sense Tate Taylor’s adaptation remains true to its source material. Eschewing any nuanced shades of grey, The Help’s characters are cartoonish archetypes; cancer subplots and revenge pies are mercilessly milked for tears and laughs; and each demographic of Oprah’s book club will feel included as one race’s journey to equality inspires one woman’s journey to self-enlightenment.
However, despite being a crude and whitewashed account of a harrowing era, The Help demonstrates the power of moving performances by a wonderful cast. Though superficially focused around the idealistic Civil Rights Reporter Barbie Skeeter (the charming Emma Stone), this truly is an ensemble piece. Viola Davis shines as a soft-spoken maid who reluctantly reveals the shocking treatment of her peers; Octavia Spencer provides buckets of sass, while Jessica Chastain will break hearts as a loveable ditz whose own outsider status has taught her how to be colour-blind.
Another star of the film is Mississippi itself, which is shot lushly and lovingly by Jackson native Taylor, acting as both a love letter and condemnation of a place undergoing a belated transformation. It adds an element of authenticity to a film whose overly-simplified screenplay occasionally undermines the empathy it hopes to evoke.
But it’s hard to be overly critical of a Disney adaptation of a bestselling beach book. It’s an innocent film, but not insultingly so. And though it may address its complex themes too simply, too broadly (and for thirty minutes too long), it will reach and please and affect a huge audience, providing equal measures of indignation and inspiration to those looking only to be entertained. For others, there’s enough in the themes themselves – if not their exploration – to inspire thought and conversation about how fear and hatred are forces that still need to be fought.
See the trailer here.