'The Help' helped by solid performances



Article Published: Aug. 18, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
'The Help' helped by solid performances


frank@mountaintimes.com

Some movies have "tearjerker" written all over them - "Old Yeller," "Life is Beautiful," "Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan."

If it's done right, emotion flows naturally. If it's done with tearjerking in mind, well, it seems like some mechanical tear extractor that sounds far more terrifying than it actually is.

The new period dramedy, "The Help," based on the bestselling novel of the same name, has all the trappings of an engineered tearjerker. You can tell it's built for this purpose, minus flashing cues that tell viewers it's time to get misty.

But in all fairness, director Tate Taylor ("Winter's Bone") is a decent engineer. "The Help" features a solid cast that lifts the film from its standard-issue chassis.

Emma Stone ("Easy A") is Skeeter Phelan, an aspiring writer fresh out of college, who, upon returning home to 1960s' Jackson, Miss., realizes she has very little in common with her childhood friends, Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard, "The Village") in particular.

Sugar-coated ice queen Hilly is intent on further segregating the African-American help from their white employers, and maid Aibileen (Viola Davis, "Eat Pray Love") is cruelly caught in the middle.

Having raised numbers of employers' children, even treating them as if they were her own, Aibileen continues shouldering the racist affronts and cruelty that surrounds her.

When Skeeter pitches a book that would tell stories and anecdotes from the help's point of view, Aibileen feels morally obligated to contribute. But they'll need more perspective than just Aibileen's, and the two realize that bringing these issues to light could prove dangerous for those willing to do so.

But just how dangerous? The sad truth of it all is that it would have been outright deadly. Yet, with the exception of a couple historical references, "The Help" largely glosses over the issue, painting a picture that barely acknowledges the seething climate.

The film doesn't delve as deep as it could, instead playing it safe for the sake of feel-goodness.

Fortunately, strong performances from Davis and Stone give the gloss some much-needed texture.
"The Help," rated PG-13 for thematic material, is playing at Regal Cinema 7. For show times, see page 16 or visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.

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