Watching: The Help (2011)

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Exploring the racial segregation of the 1960’s, The Help is a film that incorporates a unique blend of humour and heartstrings. Speaking straight to the heart, it is a faithful adaption to the book of the same name by Kathryn Stokett. The powerhouse cast is to thank for it’s degree of success, as is the translation of the narrative from novel into film. With beautiful settings and a performance driven plot, it’s no wonder that this movie has been positively received the world over.

There are only a handful of films that have managed to make me cry and The Help is one of the lucky few. It was as intense as it was heartfelt, and I couldn’t help but adore Viola Davis’s (Prisoners, Doubt) performance as Aibileen. The entire film is well thought out and its story, although a tad predictable and melodramatic, is highly engaging and leaves the viewer asking for more. I’ve watched this with the family a few times since it’s release – and it’s just as powerful every time.

It’s the 1960’s in Jackson, Mississippi as racial rights are trotted on by the hegemonic White society. Skeeter (Emma Stone), an ambitious writer working on a mundane cleaning column, becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the treatment of the coloured help by the people around her. Determined to voice out their opinions, she approaches Aibileen (Viola Davis), a maid who has raised White kids throughout her life, with the intent on writing a book on her experiences. As tensions rise between the White and the Black, Skeeter and Aibileen, along with fellow maid Minny (Octavia Spencer) and others, push through their social boundaries to expose what really happens behind closed doors and white picket fences.

The star ensemble of the film are without a doubt the film’s success. Davis is more than capable of pulling of an emotional performance, presenting the audience with a compelling act that is as touching as it is powerful. I would say that it is impossible not to feel for the characters the team gives life to, even if those emotions range from pure hate to heart wrenching pain. Stone’s (Easy A, Amazing Spiderman) act as Skeeter is, although not a strong as Davis’s is still solid and carries its own weight through the film. Although not part of the main story, an honourable mention goes out to Jessica Chastain’s (The Tree of Life, Mama) role as Celia Foote, who – like Davis – provides a surprisingly fleshed out character to the audience without overstepping her boundaries. On another note, the setting of Jackson seems to me to be highly authentic – it simply breathes a 1960’s air. Whether this vibe is used to heighten the tension between societies or to represent the simplicity of these times, Tate Taylor’s understanding of the original work is to thank for the beautifully created scenes. Add in an eloquent musical score, carefully selected costumes and the right shots – and you’ve got yourself a triumphant film that speaks for itself.

As a whole, The Help is a remarkable film that uses the talents of it’s actors to their full extent. Performances are ripe with emotions and sincerity, giving life to this beautiful and humorous fight for truth. While it at time may dip it’s toe into a melodramatic puddle, it never seems to coincide with the cliches that fill films that centre on race and ethnicity. With it’s comedic flair, topic gentility and emotional poise, The Help is a rewarding film experience that any film junkie should not go living without.

Bry Rating: 4.25/5
Recommended? Without a doubt
Country of Origin: America
Language: English

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Watching: How I Live Now (2013)

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How often is a good premise destroyed in the world of film? Lately, it seems, all too often. Piling on the mountain of teen romance films, Kevin MacDonald’s How I Live Now is a somewhat mediocre attempt in creating a romance amidst the chaos of a World War. In essence, while a variety of film aspects are generally quite good, it seems that the overall film is weighed down by a poor plot line and story telling.

To be honest, the Netflix description really intrigued me – with the unique combination of the war and a girl-meets-boy- movie tropes, I was expecting a balanced story that wouldn’t severely hinge on either for a long period of time. Unfortunately, I was flat out disappointed, and worst of all… proven wrong.

The film opens with Daisy, a compulsive American arriving in England seemingly completely oblivious to the impending threat of a World War III. She later arrives at her cousins’ house and although she is hesitant at first, befriends her family and learns to be more at ease with herself and others. This happiness is short lived though, as she is soon separated from her cousins and is forced to cope with the harsh realities of war, the responsibilities as a carer and the deep desire to reach the one she loves.

I’ve never seen the director’s previous work, nor have I read the novel the film is based of, but it seemed as though he went through a checklist of things to shoot in the film. A love scene? Check. A sex scene? Check. A confrontation scene? Check. Stock character death? Check. And even then, there are some plot details that audience members like me were left wanting more of. It can be said that the general plot is horribly watered down, sanitised and wholly unrealistic, most likely to appeal to the filmmaker’s “stereotypical”  young female audience. Luckily though, Saoirse Ronan’s (The Lovely Bones) performance, as well as the performance of her fellow cast members, give the film some good points, providing a welcome sense of relief to MacDonald’s train wreck. Other kudos come from the few scenic shots, as well as the focus on Daisy’s development from a neurotic teen to a more rounded character by the end of the film.

In short, the film definitely has more downs than up, and while that is a legitimate reason to ignore this attempt at a romance-during-war story, the acting and casting of the movie just lifts it enough to be palatable. If anything, watch this film to see the brilliant work the actors put on… or don’t, to save yourself the pain in watching a film that will leave a longing, bad taste in your mouth.

Bry Rating: 2/5
Recommended? Don’t bother.
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Language: English