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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Review: The Help & The Spring Formal

In the Mississippi town of Jackson, in the 1960s, Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) is a middle aged black maid who spends her days working in the house of a white housewife, taking care of the housewife's child. She's good at her job, also serving as the film's narrator, having taken care of many babies in her lifetime, since 1924 in fact. With several of her fellow black maids, including the outspoken Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), she works hard. Of course, it's not always easy being a black maid in a decidedly... I want to say bigoted, town like Jackson.

Enter Ole Miss graduate and journalism student Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan (Emma Stone, who also played Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man). After seeing first hand how white housewives such as the unsavory Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) speak disdainfully of "the help," she seeks out Aibileen to ask her first for advice on how to write a cleaning advice column, and then about her experiences as a black maid. Eventually, Minny agrees to chime in too. Of course, Skeeter's authorial ambitions aren't exactly taken kindly to by the residents of Jackson. Her editor, however, loves the idea. Thus, the book within the movie is born.

Not having read the book, I'm not entirely sure how close the movie is to it. Regardless of that, however, this is still a very great film. It's large cast is made up of a crack team of phenomenal actors, who, with their talent, add greatly to the film's relatable characters. This delightful little story clearly presents them, laying out all of their emotions and motivations bare. The film's heroine, the feisty Skeeter is easy to like, reminding me of the main character from my own book. There's also a gripping dynamic between all of the characters, with most of the character interacting with one another in some manner or another. Of special attention, however, is the dynamic between Skeeter and Aibileen. Starting out as mere acquaintances, their relationship turns into a beautiful friendship, as they work together to expose the injustices of the lives of black maids.

My favorite character by far is Minny. She has that combination of audacity and spunk that make her shine, but she also has a heart of gold. She's a symbol of gumption, always doing the right thing, and speaking her mind. It's no wonder that Octavia Spencer won an Oscar, the film's only Oscar, though one of the four for which it was nominated, for her portrayal of the character.

In addition, this film also earns points for not only being a gripping, even inspiring drama, but also having smashing humor. That's not to say that it's a full fledged comedy, far from it, but it can still be pretty darn funny. I especially like the scene where Minny serves Hilly some "chocolate pie." It's a little disgusting, but it still has much humor value.

Speaking of that scene, I'll make it clear that this film's record is marred by a liberal amount of swearing, particularly the S-bomb, which is what the aforementioned "chocolate pie" joke revolves around. So, I'll subtract points for that. I'd also like to commend the film for giving a laudable example of Christianity in the form of Pastor Green (masterfully played by David Oyelowo), but I nevertheless subtract points for Hilly being a terrible example of Christianity. Thusly, because of this swearing, I cannot recommend The Help for families. There's also the matter of housewife Celia (Jessica Chastain) and her miscarriages, during which a bit of blood is shown. Thusly, I'm afraid I cannot recommend The Help for families.

However, I can recommend the film as being an intelligent, heartfelt drama for older audiences, and I would even say that this is one of the best films I have ever seen, up there with Hugo and Citizen Kane. In fact, I like it better than the latter, and though it may be better than the former, I liked Hugo better because it was good for the whole family. By the way, did you notice that all of these movies have a character or characters in their titles?

RATING: 9.5/10

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Occurring last night was my co-op's Spring Formal. It was held at a fine little party place overlooking a canal in Ballard, and there was good food and entertainment to be found there. We were entertained by the folks from the Taproot Theatre, who performed with their stellar improvised company. I actually went to see them for one of my birthdays, and I noted the similarities between this particular troupe's act and the act of the troupe that I saw. There was steak, mashed potatoes, fruits, something I couldn't tell whether it was fish of chicken, steamed vegetables, rolls with butter, and cake. It was all very good.