March 10, 2019

filmsgraded.com:
The Help (2011)
Grade: 58/100

Director: Tate Taylor
Stars: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard

What it's about. Set in Jackson, Mississippi, during the early 1960s. Hottie white aspiring journalist Emma Stone is outraged by the treatment of black maids by racist upper-middle class white families. Stone convinces two long-suffering maids, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, who help her write a revelatory book that will wake up White America and make Stone a talk-of-the-town success.

Bryce Dallas Howard is the most flagrant of the bigoted housewives. Jessica Chastain, on the other hand, is the nicest and sweetest, and is thus excluded from Howard's snobby society. Allison Janney is Stone's difficult but redeemable mother, Chris Lowell is Stone's love interest, Mary Steenburgen is Stone's New York City publisher, Mike Vogel is Chastain's good-natured husband, and Sissy Spacek is Howard's likable but addlepated mother.

How others will see it. The Help was an enormous box office success, with a domestic gross of many times its budget. Its politically correct themes resonated on the awards circuit. Octavia Spencer won Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars, Golden Globes, and BAFTA, a rare trifecta. The movie was also Oscar-nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress (Davis), and Best Supporting Actress (Chastain).

Today at imdb.com, the movie has an enormous 388K user votes and a lofty user rating of 8.1 out of 10, high enough to land the flick in the lower reaches of the website's Top 250. Women under 30 grade the movie highest (8.5), while men over 45 grade it lowest (7.8), an indication that catty talk between ladies is less entertaining for older male observers.

As one would expect with such a high user rating, most user reviews are enthusiastic, though there is a familiar undercurrent of complaints that the book is better, and perhaps not all women in Kennedy-era Jackson corresponded to the stereotypes on display here.

How I felt about it. Not long ago, the Oscars was plagued by the twitter campaign #OscarsSoWhite. But in truth, in this millennium many blacks have been nominated for (and won) Oscars. So, the trope has changed, particularly with Green Book's Best Picture win, to criticism of the White Savior role in movies that feature a mix of blacks and whites in important roles.

The White Savior is certainly present here: if it wasn't for Emma Stone hounding black maids for the dirt on their bigoted and stingy employers, there would be no book published to memorialize their stories. We won't mention the white couple who tells their grateful maid that she has a job for life, at least adding "if you want it."

The White Savior stands out because most of the Mississippi white housewives are such stupid, shallow, bigots. There are admittedly exceptions, such as Jessica Chastain's cute dumb blonde stereotype, and Sissy Spacek's is-she-senile-or-is-she-shrewd elderly character. The men, both black and white, are mostly absent and none too believable when present, except for Stone's ever-exasperated local newspaper editor (Leslie Jordan).

The movie stars well, but turns for the worse once Stone convinces Davis and Spencer to participate in her Jim Crow tell-all. It appears that every black woman in Jackson can only find employment as a maid for detestable thirty-ish whites who neglect their kids and insult their servants. We are to believe that a college graduate who looks like Emma Stone has never had a boyfriend, and would finally get one by treating him as if he is the biggest jerk on the planet.

Most preposterous of all is that Bryce Dallas Howard's live-in mother would find it hilarious that a former employee with a grievance has served Howard two slices of poop pie, and told her so to her face. As Pee Wee Herman would say, "So funny I forgot to laugh."