Looking at the trailer for The Help it is hard to expect anything other than an overly sentimental drama about the struggles of black maids in the 1960s. However, when I discovered that it is Tate Taylor’s directorial follow up to last year’s magnificent drama, Winter’s Bone, it changed my opinion slightly; perhaps he could wean another set of excellent performances from the actresses (like he did with Jennifer Lawrence in that film) and turn what could easily be a treacly drama into an enjoyable film.
Much to my dismay, the beginning of the film didn’t seem that way at all, it features narrators talking too much and clunky comedy (particularly from the newspaper editor) however, I stuck with it and it slowly morphed into a thoroughly enjoyable and touching drama.
Tate Taylor appears to be very good at directing women, Jennifer Lawrence received an Oscar nomination for her performance in Winter’s Bone and now he directs an ensemble cast made up almost exclusively of women. Emma Stone (Easy A and Zombieland) stars as Skeeter, a young journalist, who gathers together stories written by maids working under the Jim Crow era of oppression in the USA.
The real strength of the film lies in its performances, Emma Stone yet again shows that she isn’t just a talented comedian but is also talented enough to be the leading lady in a film which requires real depth of character. The standout performances come not from the leading lady, but from Bryce Dallas Howard as the cruel enforcer of racial segregation and from Octavia Spencer as her maid, Minny.
The film never feels preachy about its subject matter, a testament to how well the bestselling book is adapted by writer/director Tate Taylor. Despite this, it feels like a very true-to-life account of the problems faced in the southern states during the Civil Rights Movement.
Verdict – It may look like it will be over sentimental and just a “weepy” for the girls to sob at but I say look again. 8/10