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Blu-ray Review: Beloved ‘The Help’ With Viola Davis, Emma Stone

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CHICAGO – “The Help” has been one of the most divisive movies of 2011. I know some critics who absolutely loathe it, finding the easy-to-digest version of something as important as civil rights to be offensive. I get that. I know some critics who love it, finding the performances strong enough to carry the movie over any sentimental rough patches. I get that too. The movie is too much of a phenomenon for any self-respecting cinema buff to miss it entirely. So, as much as I’d love to offer a solid thumbs up or down, I’m falling pretty squarely in the middle, edging just barely to a recommendation, but you need to see it for yourself just to see on which side of the controversial fence you fall.

HollywoodChicago.com Blu-Ray Rating: 3.5/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 3.5/5.0

What works about “The Help? Four of the strongest performances of the year — Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, and Emma Stone. All four of these ladies bring a gravity and weight to the film that just as easily might not have been there. We’ll get to what doesn’t work soon, but the fact is that the script for “The Help” is pretty surface level — it’s how remarkably that Davis, Spencer, Chastain, and Stone dig beneath that surface that made the film beloved for so many people. Three of the four (excluding future superstar Stone) are likely to be Oscar nominees and I have no problem with any of those choices. They’re great and I think one of the reasons that the film became such a phenomenon is that it’s so rare to see this many strong female performances in one film.

The Help
The Help
Photo credit: Disney Pictures

What doesn’t work about “The Help”? Every time that one of the potential Oscar winners does something subtle or character driven or honest, there’s another side to the seesaw that swings the film back to cartoonish manipulation. I hated most of the other supporting characters, including the caricatures played by Bryce Dallas Howard and Allison Janney. These people don’t feel real. They feel two-dimensional and when characters this shallow take on something as important as civil rights then it’s easy to see why critics get offended. This is an important story and I wish they had found more of the realism within it, especially in Howard’s over-the-top villain, a character that never once feels genuine.

The Help was released on Blu-ray and DVD on December 6th, 2011
The Help was released on Blu-ray and DVD on December 6th, 2011
Photo credit: Disney

Ultimately, “The Help” is an old-fashioned crowd pleaser (the theme for 2011 as “War Horse” and “The Artist” could also take that title). I love Viola Davis, Jessica Chastain, and Emma Stone with such critical passion that I’m willing to overlook the manipulation and sentimentality because I think what they do here should be praised. I not only want them to get better roles but I want more roles like the ones they play here to be written.

I can sit back and critically pick apart “The Help” or I can be honest — it worked for me emotionally. Approach it with your head and it’s undeniable that the film could have been better and that the story of the civil rights movement in the South should have been treated with less emotional manipulation but approach it with your heart and it’s going to be very difficult to not be moved by some of the best acting of the year.

The #1 New York Times best seller by Kathryn Stockett comes to vivid life through the powerful performances of a phenomenal ensemble cast. Led by Emma Stone, Academy Award-nominated Viola Davis (Best Supporting Actress, Doubt, 2008), Octavia Spencer and Bryce Dallas Howard, The Help is an inspirational, courageous and empowering story about very different, extraordinary women in the 1960s South who build an unlikely friendship around a secret writing project — one that breaks society’s rules and puts them all at risk. Filled with poignancy, humor and hope — and complete with compelling never-before-seen bonus features — The Help is a timeless, universal and triumphant story about the ability to create change.

Special Features:
o Deleted Scenes
o Making Of The Help: From Friendship To Film
o In Their Own Words: A Tribute To The Maids Of Mississippi
o Mary J. Blige’s “The Living Proof” Music Video

“The Help” stars Viola Davis, Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sissy Spacek, and Allison Janney. It was directed by Tate Taylor and released on Blu-ray and DVD on December 6th, 2011.

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