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The Help

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helpIt has its heart in the right place. It has a great cast. It will get nominated for lots of awards.

It’s an entertaining film, but very flawed.

It’s the story of black maids in Mississippi in the ‘60s, working for rich white families that treat them poorly.

One of my pet peeves in movies is when things are over the top. For example, as powerful as the scene in Saving Private Ryan is when they storm the beach of Normandy, we didn’t need to see every imaginable way a soldier could die. Less is sometimes more, and had Spielberg just shown us a few of those deaths, with the hail of gunfire, it would’ve been more effective.

I can imagine Jackson, Mississippi not being the best place for blacks to live. I just don’t know why you need every white person being violent or using racial epithets. And if they were, are they really doing it right to the maids faces?

There were other times I felt the opposite, and that racial themes that would’ve been around during that time were sugar-coated.

I liked a few of the subplots, but some were awful.

We’re supposed to be so shocked that Bryce Dallas Howard would do a fundraiser for African children, yet she’s horrible to her black maid.

We’re also supposed to believe that a “typo” in a newsletter causes everybody in town to leave toilets on her front lawn. So, she didn’t see the typo before it was released? And, folks in town just have extra toilets they’ll leave on your lawn at 5 a.m.?

Howard had a better performance in the Clint Eastwood movie Hereafter (which I didn’t like). That character had some great subtle moments and more range.

In this, she has this insane smile every second she’s on the screen.

And are we really supposed to believe she’d scarf down a pie, while equally praising it and putting down the maid that cooked it?

Oh, and if the idea of an angry waiter spitting in your food freaks you out, you might want to close your eyes for the pie scene.

Howard will get an Oscar nomination. In fact, so will others in the cast. The only one that deserves it is Viola Davis, who was so good in Doubt.

When she recounts her life story to Stone, I couldn’t stop the tears. And the way she says it, with sadness and just a touch of anger. It was a perfectly done character.

Octavia Spence was fun as Minny the maid (no Cab Calloway reference intended).

Now, the other characters I had problems with.

–Mary Steenburgen as the liberal, tough Jewish book publisher, didn’t work for me. Rent The Long Walk Home, which Steenburgen narrates (also with Sissy Spacek). It’s a great movie from the late ‘80s about the Montgomery bus boycott in the mid-50s.

–Emma Stone was miscast.

In the book, the Skeeter character isn’t attractive. And at times, I just didn’t care for her wet behind the ears expressions.

–Sissy Spacek has movie dementia. The last character that had that was Richard Jenkins in Friends with Benefits.

This is when they have dementia when the director wants to manipulate your emotions, yet when they need to have words of wisdom for the young folks or say something witty, they’re normal.

–Cicely Tyson was okay in her part, but it wasn’t worthy of the Oscar nomination she’ll be getting.

–Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life) was a horribly written blonde bimbo/white trash character that married a rich guy. The rest of the town dislikes her, and the scenes she’s in seem to be written by somebody that writes a sitcom. We get the cliché scene where she’s the only one that didn’t know she wasn’t invited to a luncheon, yet shows up at the window and sees the gals inside having the time of their lives.

And when we finally get to the story behind why a maid was fired, it isn’t satisfying.

It reminded me of a better scene in the movie Indian Summer.

Alan Arkin is a camp counselor who invites his favorite kids back (as adults), before he closes the camp. The one guy that disliked Arkin stole his prized trophy. He explains that Arkin had fired a counselor just because he was black.

When the story is finally shown in flashback, Arkin explained he didn’t know the guy was black when he hired him over the phone. He had no problem keeping him as an employee, but knew a lot of the parents would pull their kids from his camp. So he paid him for the summer, without having him do a single day of work.

I’m also wondering why we’re supposed to have sympathy for a maid that “found” a ring by the side of a bed and decided to keep it. Maybe I don’t know the rules maids use, but isn’t that still stealing? It isn’t “finders keepers” if you’re cleaning a persons house.

And somebody needs to explain to me why everyone loved the pie scene so much. It was rather disgusting, and makes it hard to like the character serving it.

The boyfriend Stone finally gets is also horribly written.

Pet Peeve # 38 appears in this movie. That’s when an author in a movie writes a book, and the local bookstore stocks many copies in the display window.

The next time a best seller comes out, I’m going to look at the local bookstore (if there are any left), and see if the entire window is devoted to that one novel.

I was in London in the early ‘90s when a bomb went off in a bookstore that was carrying Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses.

Now, I’m not saying a bookstore in the south would’ve been bombed for carrying that book, but I’m guessing it would be stocked somewhere not as prominent.

The film was also a little long at two hours and 15 minutes, but since most of the population is going to eat up every second of this (like it was chocolate pie), and it’s going to make well over $100 million – they must’ve done something right. A 100 million moviegoers can’t be wrong.

I’m still confused as to why the folks didn’t want the maids using their toilets. I don’t want my poker buddies or fantasy football players using my bathroom, but I’d welcome maids using the john. They’d probably be the only ones that clean up after themselves.

This gets 2 stars out of 5.

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