I have absolutely no problem with female-driven dramas, with films whose preachy morals have expired, or with feel-good movies. ‘The Help’ tries to be all three of those things. Just like everything else, there’s a right way and a wrong way to pull something off. If ‘The Help’ were a child doing chores, it would that kid who sweeps all the dust under the rug rather than pick it up in a dustpan. At first glance, he makes everything look the way you’d want and expect it to, but he’s not even coming close to getting the job done properly.
‘The Help’ is a woman-centric drama set during the early civil rights days of the 1960s. It tells the story of an aspiring author (Emma Stone) who convinces a segregated black maid (Viola Davis) about privately speaking bluntly and honestly about working for racist white families for a tell-all book that she suspects with revolutionize the way whites treat their maids.
Two major problems plague ‘The Help.’ First, the film has a lousy screenplay. Instead of adapting the popular novel by Kathryn Stockett to work on the big screen, the movie just transfers everything wholesale. No, I haven’t read the novel, but one doesn’t need to read the source material to pick up on this. The film is so overly cluttered with unnecessary characters and details that you literally feel like you’re reading a dense book and not watching a film. ‘The Help’ makes for a two-plus hour movie – and it sure feels like it.
Secondly, ‘The Help’ doesn’t do a single thing that we haven’t already seen in other films about the same subject matter. Worse, ‘The Help’ handles the preachy topics in a superficial, stereotypical and manipulative manner. In many ways, the film feels like a bad rip-off of ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’. It has the strong tomboy who acts against societal norms, the proper traditional southern belles, the friendly black servants who take to the non-judgmental tomboy, and spousal abuse. Hell, there’s even a mystery ingredient recipe.
Despite terrific performances from Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard and Jessica Chastain, ‘The Help’ is utterly helpless. It’s far too superficial, stereotypical, congested and long to keep anyone who hasn’t read the book entertained for its entire 137-minute runtime. If you’re one who enjoys Hallmark and Lifetime original movies, or are a fan of the novel, then you might love ‘The Help.’ If not, expect to dread every manipulative moment.