Sunday, November 27, 2011

#247: Help

Help is a 2011 movie based against the background of the American civil war in the 1960s. Adapted from a Kathryn Stockett novel of the same name, the movie traces the relationship between a young journalist Skeeter (Emma Stone) and her family in Mississippi. The families around her neighborhood are all used to having black maids and right after the civil war, Skeeter's thinking represents a more liberal outlook towards these helps. Her immediate society, on the other hand discriminates against these helps to the extent of having seperate baths for the maids and thereby lies the core conflict of the movie.

The focus of Help is a black maid called Abeleen (Viola Davis). When Skeeter approaches Abeleen to let her tell her side of her story for a journalistic assignment, Abeleen isn't very forthcoming. After all, in the new environment being seen as someone speaking up for the blacks might be detrimental to her safety. Skeeter though is unrelenting and gets Abeleen to open up. Seeing Abeleen's stance, her friend Minny Jackson (Olivia Spencer) too joins in and the two take Skeeter through their experiences of having served in all-white families for all these years. Some of the revelations are funny, some distressing and some utterly disgusting. By the time, Skeeter has got all her material from these two maids, she ventures to write the last chapter- the relationship between an old black maid who brought her up during her childhood. Skeeter gets very little in way of assistance from her own Mom (Allison Janey) but with her persistence eventually gets to the what actually happened. Help is a sensitive telling of a tale about these three women in an insensitive environment.

The film is written and directed by Tate Taylor, Kathryn's Stockett's close friend and together their upbringing in the Jackson area lends the story a very real touch. From the costumes to the art direction to the speech patterns and dialogues in the film, Taylor transports us to an alternate universe that is very different from the times we live in. The characters of Abeleen and Minnny are triumphant sketches of ordinary people for whom respect and acceptance in the society they live in is a luxury. And both Davis and Spencer are nothing less than brilliant. Emma Stone's zealousness in bringing their story to life is commendable but not entirely inspiring. The screenplay tends to stretch towards the end and the last 15-20 minutes could've been dealt differently. A moving background score by Thomas Newman provides a neat finishing touch.

In the end, Help is a strong effort by Tate Taylor. Although not very powerful in it's final message, it does take you back to a time when discrimination was an in-your-face part of the society. It is a film that has it's heart in the right place and does everything to stay true to that. Sometimes, you can't ask more from a movie than that.

Rating: 7/10

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