Film Review: The Help

Dir: Tate Taylor

Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer

Rating: ★★

Set in early 1960s Mississippi, The Help tells the story of Skeeter (Emma Stone), a wealthy college graduate who gets a job as a journalist. After her own maid, who essentially raised her, disappears, she secretly works with two maids, Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer), to write a book about what it’s really like to be a black maid working for a white family, in a time when segregation meant that black people and white people couldn’t use the same bathroom, or sit together on the bus.

When I went to see The Help, I had high expectations; the film had received commercial and critical acclaim since it was released across The Pond earlier in the year, and there had been a lot of buzz surrounding the film’s lead actresses, with many predicting a shower of awards to follow. Indeed, after the success of Easy A, Emma Stone proves that she’s capable of taking on the role of leading lady, although in this case, the show is undeniably stolen by a stunning Viola Davis. However, praise for the film ends there.

The problem with the film is that it shies away from the issues it’s supposed to be addressing; it wants to be a champion of civil rights, but it doesn’t want to make the audience uncomfortable. As a result, we’re duped into thinking that what we’re watching is a historically accurate drama, when in fact we’re enjoying a light, heart-warming comedy. Although the sixties are iconic as a time of ‘peace and love’, the South was still thoroughly racist. Writing such an honest exposé, such as the one the three women in the film do, would have put your life at serious risk; the film’s director, and indeed the source novel’s writer, Kathryn Stockett, gloss over this minor detail, and the film conveniently ends before they have to deal with the consequences of their actions. In short, it’s a film about civil rights, sent in the American south, in the 1960s, that doesn’t want to talk about lynching or violence or the KKK- which is a bit like making a film about the Jewish experience in 1940s Germany and forgetting to mention The Holocaust.

Some would say, ‘it’s a film, it’s supposed to be fiction, a little historical inaccuracy doesn’t warrant a damning review’; in most cases, that’s true. I can forgive Mel Gibson for flashing his arse in Braveheart, and I get over Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, but it’s irresponsible and insulting to deal with such a serious issue and cop out at the last minute in favour of a happy ‘Hollywood’ ending.}