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THE HELP (2011)

Look at the title.  Now look at the date.  Look back at the title.  Look at the date once more.  Sadly, you ought to recognize that this film came nearly four weeks ago.  So why am I reviewing it now?  Why am I not reviewing one of the films that came out two days ago?  Well, in the simplest sense, because The Help seemed better than any film released this week.  I had considered seeing The Debt, being a fan of stories about secret agents and intrigue, it seemed like it would be a good fit for me.  But then The Help shot up to the number one position in last week’s box office totals.  So, I decided to finally see the movie my mother had told me to go see weeks ago.

THE GOOD

Let me begin by saying that this film was incredibly well written.  And that was expected.  Why?  Because it was a novel before it was a film.  While readers of the original literature may always find issues regarding the move from text to motion picture, it’s virtually guaranteed that whenever you have the book-to-film scenario, an excellent story will be told.

While I say an excellent story was told, unlike many of my other posts (especially those involving Emma Stone), this has nothing to do with clever dialogue.  What was truly great about this film was that it told a story that mattered, a period piece taking place in Jackson, Mississippi of the early 1960s, using people that were real.  These were not human caricatures based off stereotypes, nor were they fabrications made to present the image of one side being better than the other.  They were constructed of narrative voices and histories that, in tandem with good actors, made the characters into people we’d recognize and cheer on or despise.

These characters and the many men and women who played them performed very well in this film.  Of all the talented actors and actresses, a few deserved special commendations.  The first of these is Viola Davis, who played Aibileen Clark.  She is, if not the protagonist, certainly one of them.  Her character was incredibly balanced in terms of emotion and intelligence, and Davis performed the role so well as to have me completely believe she had always been a maid as her mothers before her.  The second is Octavia Spencer, the actress and basis for the character Minny Jackson (author of The Help claimed that Spencer was who she pictured Minny as when she was writing).  Next is Emma Stone, who portrayed the writer Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan.  Stone is beautiful as always (which is a slight conflict that I’ll discuss later) and retorts with snappy quips to any negative situation as she does in all of her movies.  Then there’s Bryce Dallas Howard, who was the film’s antagonist, Hilly Holbrook.  She perfectly assumes the role of "the character we love to hate".  After Howard, we have Allison Janney and Sissy Spacek, mothers to Stone’s and Howard’s characters, respectively.  Both were incredibly funny when the film called for a laugh, and otherwise acted as women in their positions would.  I applaud them both.  Finally, and a bit of an oddity for how little we see of him, is Nelsan Ellis, who takes the role of Henry the Waiter.  That’s right, we see so little of him that he doesn’t receive a last name but a job position.  Still, I thought he was one of the most impressive characters for being eternally kind and pleasant in a time of strife, and being a vehicle in order to move the plot forward. 

THE BAD

It’s difficult, though not impossible, for me to find elements within this film that I did not enjoy.  The first, and probably most important, is the absolute ending.  Or rather, the lack of such a thing.  To spoil the film, though nobody should watch this film for the ending, it’s about the humanity displayed.  So, it ends with Skeeter’s book, The Help, being published and recognized by Hilly.  Hilly has Aibileen’s mistress fire her and threatens to call the police.  Aibileen has an emotional moment with the child she has been nannying for years, and then leaves the house with a few tears as the child screams.  Then we have a voice over by Aibileen saying that she retired at that moment and is ready for whatever the future may bring.  But that’s the biggest issue.  She has just lost her job, the people of Jackson are slowly realizing that the book is about them, Skeeter is leaving for New York, and black people are being killed during the tumultuous years leading up to the civil rights movement.  While the final image you’re left with, Aibileen walking down a street flanked by large trees, is pleasant, it leaves you wondering if there is any sort of happy future for her. That said, this is probably the best ending as we could hope for as fleshing out the rest of her life (or the next few years) would have been a real detraction from the plot.

My only other qualm is the choice of Emma Stone for Skeeter.  While I adore Emma, Skeeter’s character is supposed to have image problems.  Supposedly unattractive in high school and having issues with men throughout the film, it seems off that such an attractive actress (especially recently if you’ve seen Jim Carrey’s recent confession) would be chosen for the character. 

THE UGLY

Only one item can be placed under this heading.  And it’s when Spencer’s character feeds her mistress a chocolate pie into which she has mixed her own excrement.  (Even writing that is painful, at least as I try to remain even remotely professional.)  So, while the concept is a little disappointing for such a good film, it was done (I’m going to regret this next word for many, many reasons) tastefully.  You only come to know what’s in the pie through dialogue and it’s the reactions to this event that are truly hilarious, particularly Spacek’s laughing at her daughter.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I highly recommend the film to anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.  It’s enjoyable to watch and particularly so for being an impressively human and balanced drama.  Lastly, it’s a rather long film, about two and a quarter hours, meaning that you get your money’s worth without it feeling overly lengthy.

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CLEVER, BRILLIANT, HILARIOUS (REVIEW OF CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE)

Hey party people, today has been excellent.  (When I say today, I mean Tuesday.  The issue here is that I don’t sleep.)  I went out with Cate again, saw an excellent film, and some other things I really ought not talk about online.  But what matters here?  The film, of course.  And what, pray tell, was that film?  It was Crazy, Stupid, Love

Now, I know I told you that I was going to review The Guard this week, but I’m afraid that film has been put on a back burner.  With only two weeks until my semi-permanent departure from the West Coast (I’m going back to school in two 13 days), my time has become valuable through rarity and my friends and family are claiming timeslots so quickly that I really should have a secretary to keep track of everything.  So, with all of the crud I’m scheduled to do, and the number of things I’d like to do, The Guard will have to wait for a slow day or until I return to DC.

Now, let’s talk about the film I saw:

THE GOOD

First, this film was brilliant.  It truly was.  After watching a miserable comedy four days ago, this was such a reprieve.  But what was it exactly?  It was a comedy starring Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julian Moore, Emma Stone, Kevin Bacon, and several others.  It was a film supported greatly by witty dialogue, well-written characters, and satisfactory cinematography.

Let’s skip the actors and talk about the characters.  The story revolves around a husband and father, Cal (Steve Carell).  At the beginning of the film, his wife, Emily (Julianne Moore), tells him that she wants a divorce.  The next hour of the film is Cal meeting Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a professional womanizer, and learning the intricacies of meeting women (a skill he never developed as he married his high school sweetheart).  The second hour comprises of failures brought about by Cal’s womanizing, Cal’s attempts to regain his wife, and Jacob’s growth into a real character (a human being with feelings and a backstory, of sorts).  All the while, Emily is having flings with David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon), Cal’s 13 year-old son is trying to romance his 17 year-old babysitter, and the babysitter is trying to romance Cal.

Now, the film becomes truly great through its dialogue and writing.  Carell’s character is never stupendous when it comes to being clever, but it’s made up for by Gosling’s and Stone’s characters.  Stone continues to be the clever redhead as she’s been in every other film (it’s okay, I love her), and Gosling plays a lovably mysterious lothario.  Whereas these two characters are the sole sources of wit, the full cast is utilized in the well-written scenes.  While Cal’s transformation from boring father to eligible bachelor is both entertaining and impressive, the best scene comes just before the film’s climax as all the characters meet up in a major plot twist and comedic violence ensues. 

THE BAD

This movie was brilliant.  That said, it was far from perfect.  In this section, we have Cal’s youngest child, Molly (Joey King).  The character had so little written that it only provided two chuckles throughout the film’s duration.  The first was to watch her dance and ignore the plot taking place, and the second was to excuse herself from an awkward situation.  Altogether, the character was about as well-fleshed out as a family pet. 

In addition to the disappointing daughter, I felt that Moore’s character served only to advance the plot or bring in more interesting characters.  She was often either a means to keep Carell on-screen or to bring Kevin Bacon into the light.  Otherwise, her character simply wallows in a poor situation she brought about, making it very hard to pity her.

THE UGLY

Like most comedy films, there are moments where it seems that the writers may have crossed a line in decency or simply played the same joke for too long.  As far as decency goes, the only lines crossed were the ones where a thirteen year old discusses his masturbation habits with his uncomfortable babysitter, and when the babysitter photographs herself naked. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

This movie is an excellent and successfully funny comedy.  I wish I’d seen it when it came out.  Regardless, I still recommend that anyone who enjoys romantic comedies, or brilliant dialogue, see it immediately.

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