by Coop Cooper
There is so much to talk about regarding the film adaptation of the bestselling book “The Help,” I won’t waste time reminding everyone of the setup or plot. In full disclosure, I helped the director and producers secure locations within Clarksdale, Mississippi in order to make sure the production filmed here. Although I helped “The Help,” I always intended on writing a non-partial review of the finished product. The short: It’s a glowing review. The long: My (possibly biased) opinions will be vindicated on the day of the 2012 Academy Awards nominations. I believe “The Help” will emerge as one of the most important and highly decorated films of the year.
Director Tate Taylor (a Mississippi native) and the rest of the principle crew have a lot to celebrate. They took an unpublished novel and elevated it to A-list standards in a matter of months. Secondly, they succeeded far beyond the expectations of myself and fans of the book. I only read the screenplay before seeing the film but I can confirm the end product far exceeded my hopes, especially in terms of tone and performances.
Of all actresses there wasn’t a single false step. The men of the film accounted for the only gap in the acting, but their presence was an intrusion within the larger story so luckily they were minimized… A smart move by the filmmakers. Only Emma Stone’s character (Skeeter) had a brief love story, but it was mercifully cut short in light of the main narrative. One could argue that it need not be in the film at all.
Viola Davis as the lead housekeeper Aibileen will receive an Oscar Nomination for Best Actress. Likewise, Octavia Spencer (one of the most prolific, underrated character actresses in the biz) will earn an Oscar Nomination for Best Supporting Actress as the willful maid, Minny. Any other acting nominations would be based upon the strength of the remaining films of the year but Emma Stone (Skeeter), Sissy Spacek (Missus Walters), Allison Janney (Charlotte Phelan) and Cicely Tyson (Constantine Jefferson) are not far from the mark.
Fans of the book will find some glaring omissions and a surprising shift in tone in the second half of the film. While the amusing scenes persist – it still has many HILARIOUS comedic moments – the film suddenly transitions to serious and becomes more dramatic than expected. The heartbreaking scenes from the source material become magnified by the skillful direction. Parts that were originally humorous reflect more meaningful emotions due to the flawless acting talents of the principle cast.
The most glaring omission in the film can be found at its end and I’d count it as the film’s most impressive strength over the novel/screenplay. Rather than wrapping everything up in a neat, tidy little bow, it allows for… possibilities of the imagination. While it’s a shade more bittersweet than the source, it becomes much more powerful for not going into the future of things to come. The ending gives just enough to satisfy and satisfy it does. Those wanting more should read the book for the juicy details left out in the film’s conclusion.
There were many times during this film where I thought, “Ouch.” It lends a harsh whipping to Mississippi culture in a broad way for the historical injustices, indifferences and inactions before and during the 1960’s. It is true most films coming in from out of state persist on these themes and continue to indict Mississippi for its history. Yet I emerged from watching “The Help” with an overwhelming sense of optimism. The film was made in Mississippi. Responsible, idealistic citizens welcomed it with open arms, invested themselves in it and encouraged its success. It will succeed and everyone here will benefit from it in one way or another, possibly even the most cynical of us. Optimism, not combativeness, is the only way we can turn around the perception people have of both Clarksdale and Mississippi.
This film could get nominated for an Academy Award as “Best Picture.” All I ask is that if Clarksdale gets the chance to host this type of film – ANY film – again, we treat them as if they might also win “Best Picture.” Whatever negatives are portrayed of Mississippi, this film (and hopefully others like it) will illustrate the change that has already happened and the desire of the people of the state and this region to reach towards future prosperity for all. There is no loss for anyone in this ideal. Hollywood’s win is ours and I believe “The Help” will aid to express what we have longed to prove as a community and a state.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars