It has been awhile since I’ve left the theatre completely hating a film. I’ve seen plenty of bad films this year that weren’t a surprise in their lousiness. When Adam Sandler is starring in a film called Just Go With It, expectations are automatically low. The Help is a movie that desperately wants to be the most important film of all time and is empty inside.
Based off the bestseller by the same name, Emma Stone plays a college graduate living in the 1960s. Wanting to be a major writer, she decides to reveal the unseen story of ‘the help.’ These are the black maids who take care of the mansions and raise the white children.
All of that sounds perfectly fine. There’s a great story there, but instead writer/director Tate Taylor decided to take complicated issues and saturate them into ridiculous cartoons. In this version of reality, if you hired a maid you are Cruella de Ville level of racist. You are cruel, lacking all humanity and desperate for the next chance to be hypocritical.
The reason we know they are being hypocritical is because we are living in 2011. Therefore we should laugh when someone suggests that smoking may kill due to dramatic irony. Stone’s character Skeeter is essentially someone living with a 2011 sense of culture. There is no black and white. She is right and everyone else is horribly wrong.
The treatment of the maids during this time of civil rights was terrible. This was an embarrassing part of American history full of harmful repercussions that still have lingering consequences. Slavery was horrendous, but that doesn’t mean every slave owner in history was a despicable person. There were racists and bigots during this time, but that doesn’t mean everyone needs to be a harpy without a single ounce of humanity. The worst example of this is Bryce Dallas Howard who continues to be the embarrassing part of every ensemble.
This is just a problem with the approach to the story. This movie falls apart in every category. The direction is utterly lifeless; there is no emotion earned beyond “Oh look I’m watching a movie.” At one point, the brilliant Viola Davis is delivering a monologue and she does a fine job. I have no idea what she said in the monologue because the film just wanted me to notice how much she was crying instead of what she was saying.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what the script says because it will change without warning. Throughout the film Allison Janney is part of the group of one-dimensional racists with no remorse for her behavior. Then she isn’t and she gives a supportive speech. For it’s very easy for people to chance their entire mindview over the case of a single night. Sandra Bullock at least fell down the stairs to overcome her hate.
However, it’s not all as dark as it seems. In fact, the film isn’t dark at all. The bright colors always have a warming effect, even though the characters occasionally mention they should be afraid for their lives. None of this is conveyed visually aside occasionally shooting a scene at night, but becomes irrelevant.
To say there is humor in this movie is a bit misleading. There is one joke, which is repeated at least 15 times. The first time it was told, it was an amusing, but broadcasted too much that the punchline wasn’t shocking. Then every single character in the movie makes the same wisecrack about it. Even if it was the funniest thing in the world, it’s diluted down to nothing by the closing credits. In fact most of the humor is so juvenile, it’s amazing how a film like Bridesmaids can do the same thing with greater results, both in terms of comedic timing and character revelations.
The Help also accomplishes the rest of the checklist of incompetent filmmaking: unnecessary voice-over only to have it disappear, not having any sort of forward momentum for at least an hour, terrible use of a period piece including covering Kennedy’s assassination for no particular reason, characters that do not change throughout the course of the story, unrealistic montages, and not knowing when to shave at least 30 minutes out of the film.
This film is a disaster of Crash level proportions. Again, I’m angry because this could have been done so well. There is nothing real about this movie and that leaves good actors and a great premise utterly wasted. There’s a pun to be made about this film needing help, but I refuse to stoop to their level.