The Help - Online Review

Minny and Aibileen are a double-act and Skeeter is the ring master-narrator, presiding over things without ever taking the spotlight ungraciously.

There's some praise due to writer/director Tate Taylor for The Help. Not only is the film a largely successful, un-fussy piece of proper drama, it also features a fantastic adapted script. Taylor stays largely faithful to Kathryn Stockett's source novel but cuts and changes in all the right places; the story of Skeeter's (Emma Stone) maid is simplified, her relationship with Stuart (Chris Lowell) should have been cut out completely but at least Taylor marginalises it, Minny's (Octavia Spencer) home life is also wisely pushed to the side. Whilst most of the praise at the time of release rested with the performances, Taylor's contribution to the success of this film is sizeable, well-judged and wise, not bad for only his second feature.

The director also gives his lead trio of Stone, Spencer and Viola Davis plenty of time to shine and grow proper characters around their roles, supporting them well with the book's best character, Celia (Jessica Chastain, very good in a gift of a role) and the incalculably nasty Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard, finally in something worth her performance). Stone's Skeeter is less skittish than in the novel but the actor adapts her regular feisty performance well to fit a character who shouldn't exude too much confidence. Skeeter's dislike of every day black/white relations in 1960s Mississippi is brought to the surface well, very carefully, as Stone shows she can cope in a variety of roles.

The real gems here though are Davis and Spencer, who inhabit the very different personalities of Minny and Aibileen with skill and grace. The book works because Aibileen's quiet rebellion is juxtaposed with Minny's very overt displays of 'sass'. The film works for exactly the same reason. The two are a double-act and Skeeter is the ring master-narrator, presiding over things without ever taking the spotlight ungraciously.

There are questions of authorship around The Help. As Stockett says in the afterword, her reluctance as a white author to write as a black maid was great but she felt she had a story to tell. There are perhaps also problems with both book and film in that the mouthpiece is also a white writer (Skeeter) but, by and large, the successful drama Taylor creates and the worthwhile nature of the message allows you to see past this potential conundrum. It never feels like Skeeter has taken over. Minny, Aibileen and many others are the real stars of the narrative.

By the time The Help gets to the end of a weighty one-hundred and forty-six minutes, it perhaps starts to lose momentum but, again like the novel, the tension increases in the finale and the build-up pays off with aplomb and misty-eyed emotional manipulation. It doesn't all work, all of the time and the production occasionally feels a bit cheap but the harsher criticisms don't hold water. This manages to be both Important and entertaining. A heady, rare, cocktail for Oscar-friendly stuff.

The Help was showing on Sky Movies Anytime+.


  1. Thought this was a solid film. I've not read the book so I can't comment on whether some of my issues are to do with the film or the source but I thought, and I may be odd for thinking so, that it was a little unfocused.

    The film's primary concern seems to be race relations but it seemed to be about relations in the female community (with race a factor) as well as the type of family that existed in 50s/60s America with the maids marginalised despite being incredibly important.

    What confuzzled me was whose story it is. Stone's character is writing the book but it's Davis who narrates and Spencer who gives the film it's main thrust while the script tries to tell all three leads' story equally.

    I felt Chastain was brilliant in it, best performance in the film for me.

    1. Yeah, definitely agree on Chastain. Great role, great performance.

      Can see where your issues with it come from. The book is told in first person, from three voices; Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter and it changes between the three as it works its way through the story. Obviously that's difficult in a film so they opted to go just for one narrator. It tells the same story but there's only one guiding voice. I didn't think this was an issue but I can see why you could.

      There is definitely an under-current to do with female relations in the book but mainly its used to draw out the existing tensions between Skeeter and Hilly, which then obviously increase in the final third. I can see how it looked like the film had something to say on that but as far as the book goes Hilly and Skeeter are just two different people with different morals, etc.

      Good points, interesting to see how someone saw it who hasn't read the book and vice versa when I don't get round to reading the novel pre-film.