By Adam Frazier
Adapted from the novel by Kathryn Stockett and directed by Tate Taylor, “The Help” explores the worlds of African-American maids and their white employers in Jackson, Mississippi at the dawn of the civil rights era.
Tate Taylor is a rather obscure name to direct such a huge adaptation – the novel has charted on best-seller lists for more than 100 weeks, after all. The guy’s only got one real full-length film under his belt (2008′s equally obscure “Pretty Ugly People”) – but it wasn’t his resume that got him the job, but rather his connection with writer Kathryn Stockett, who Taylor has been best friends with since they were five years old.
With that being said, the rather obscure director has just punched his ticket to the Academy Awards. “The Help” is a powerful, inspiring film that will no doubt become this year’s “The Blind Side.” An incredible ensemble of actresses including this summer’s breakout star, Emma Stone (“Crazy. Stupid. Love”), Jessica Chastain (“Tree of Life”) and Bryce Dallas Howard in her finest performance yet.
Of course it’s hard to ignore the dynamite work delivered by Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis (“Doubt”), who will no doubt garner nominations come award season. Much like Gina Prince-Bythewood’s 2008 pic, “The Secret Life of Bees,” Taylor’s film explores race relations in the south during the ’60s.
I know, the premise sounds cringe-worthy: a privileged white girl writes a book about the African-American women that helped raise her — but Taylor’s film proves one thing: it doesn’t matter if you’re white or black, as long as you can tell a good story, and “The Help” is a wonderful story – uplifting and healing, cinematic catharsis at its finest.
I’ve had a crush on Emma Stone since 2007′s “Superbad” – a celluloid love affair only deepened by “Zombieland,” “Easy A” and her most recent work, “Crazy. Stupid. Love.” I’m not sure if her work here will earn any awards, but it’s obvious that Stone is on fire and sure to be a great actress for many years to come.
Then there’s Jessica Chastain, who channels a bit of Sandra Bullock and Julia Roberts as Celia Foote. After her quiet, nuanced performance in Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life” it’s great to see Chastain as a bubbly, emotional mess – the complete opposite of the loathsome, spiteful Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard).
I don’t want to say much else about this movie, other than it was heartfelt and moving and worth your time (and money). While it wasn’t as personally stirring as “Beginners” or “Tree of Life,” “The Help” is a mainstream feel-good movie that you’ll no doubt hear a lot of buzz about. The good news is, it lives up to the hype (which is more than I can say about the majority of films this summer).