Director: Tate Taylor
Studio: DreamWorks SKG
Plenty of moviegoers will be willing to overlook the Hallmark Channel, civics lesson quality of The Help, writer-director Tate Taylor’s scren version of his friend Kathryn Stockett’s best-seller about the lives of black servants of wealthy white people in a 1960s Southern town. Despite the syrup and the controversy that surround the film, the two main reasons to see it—and to be powerfully stirred and affected by it—are the transcendent performances of Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer as maids whose lives and struggles are, unlike many of the movie's female characters, multi-dimensional, relatable and believable.
The usually impressive Emma Stone, for instance, gets stuck playing an idea—a device rather than a character. She’s a bookish college grad and budding writer who can’t land a beau (are they kidding?) but is able to see beyond the ultra conservative, tightly-corseted world inhabited by nasty, petty Junior League Southern belles the likes of the one played by Bryce Dallas Howard, one of several of the movie’s one-dimensional villains. Also thrown into the pot are the great Sissy Spacek, throwing shade and hurling zingers as Howard’s plainspoken mother, and Allison Janney as Stone’s screechy, ailing mother who gets a juicy moment when she pretty much hurls racism on its keester.
A cast this wonderful shouldn’t be confined to playing shrewish bigots, whiners and hysterics patched together from half-digested Tennessee Williams and Steel Magnolias. But things are on much firmer ground when the quietly powerful, watchful and intense Davis and the sour, hilarious Spencer mostly take over the movie and expose the painful consequences of the racism that to this day plagues and demeans us. Both actresses are so complex, vivid, award-worthy really, that they not only walk off the movie but also make you wish the rest of The Help cut as deeply as they do.
About the Author
Playboy Contributing Editor Stephen Rebello has written many Playboy Interview and 20 Questions features. He is the author of such books as the notorious Bad Movies We Love (with Edward Margulies) and Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the latter of which has inspired a dramatic feature film set for production in 2012. His most recent Playboy Interviews include Josh Brolin and Cameron Diaz.