Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Ahna O'Reilly, Allison Janney, Anna Camp
Tate Taylor, Kathryn Stockett (novel)
Change begins with a whisper.
An aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960's decides to write a book detailing the African-American maid's point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis.
$26.044 million on 2534 screens.
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Dolby Digital 2.0 Descriptive Video Service
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Russian Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 146 min.
Release Date: 12/6/2011
• “Making of The Help: From Friendship to Film” Featurette
• “In Their Own Words: A Tribute to the Maids of Mississippi” Featurette
• Deleted Scenes
• Music Video
• Sneak Peeks
• Bonus DVD
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Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.
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The Help [Blu-Ray] (2011)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 30, 2011)
When you look for the biggest surprise hit of summer 2011, I think the debate comes down to two movies: Bridesmaids and The Help. Though both focus on female characters, they provide radically different stories, so there’s not much else to make them comparable. Coincidentally, they ended up with nearly identical box office grosses,; the $169 million of Bridesmaids edged out Help by only a million bucks.
I’d be willing to bet we’ll get a sequel to Bridesmaids, but I’d be hard-pressed to see many opportunities for The Help 2: Even More Helpful. Set in Mississippi circa the early 1960s, we meet Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone), a recent college grad who returns home. While most of her female peers simply move on to marriage and kids, Skeeter wants to be a writer and she pursues a career at the local newspaper.
Being a woman, her editor (Leslie Jordan) sticks her with an advice column about cleaning. Though not what she wants, Skeeter seems happy solely to land an actual job as a journalist.
Unfortunately, Skeeter knows little about household chores, so she consults with African-American maid Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) for advice. As Skeeter gets to know Aibileen, she becomes more curious about Aibilieen and other black women who care for the lives and children of privileged white ladies. In addition to Aibileen, Skeeter focuses on Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), an outspoken maid who keeps jobs due to her domestic talents but ends up in hot water due to her mouthiness. We follow Skeeter’s explorations of their lives as well as various complications that emerge in the Civil Rights-era South.
When I viewed the trailers for The Help, I thought it looked pretty insufferable. I figured it’d be another movie packed with one-sided characters. We’d get noble, long-suffering African-Americans and their evil white oppressors – save for the one enlightened Caucasian at the center of the project.
And that’s exactly what the film delivers. Don’t interpret my comments as some defense of the story’s racists or an attempt to minimize the struggles African-Americans endured. Not for one second do I doubt that people demonstrated behaviors exactly like those depicted in the movie.
That said, I’d like to see characters and events portrayed in a less one-sided, one-dimensional manner. My pre-viewing belief that we’d see White People Bad, Black People Good wasn’t totally true, but it was pretty close. Aibileen is such a saint that she needs a halo, and main Evil White Lady Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) is so evil she should have a mustache to twirl; neither character shows any shades of gray whatsoever. Skeeter herself also exists more as a symbol; she doesn’t display any real internal conflict as she challenges the social structures of the day.
Others have a bit more realism behind them, but just a touch. Actually, Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain), the bimboish, socially-ostracized married babe who hires Minny, might be the movie’s most developed character. Sure, Chastain plays her with a cartoony feel, but at least the role displays some growth and change along the way; despite her caricaturish nature, she does display more realism than most.
That begs the question: does The Help actually want to be realistic? I think it does, as I believe it aspires to act as a form of history lesson – an area in which it succeeds to a degree. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t deny the difficulties experienced by the real-life Aibileens and Minnys of the world, so the film does give us insights into an ugly, not-long-ago side of our culture.
I just wish that the film wasn’t so literally black and white and predictable. We get nothing particularly new or revealing here; it’s just an easy way to scorn allegedly obsolete racial views and congratulate ourselves on how far we’ve come over the last 50 years.
And you know what? As a culture, the US has come a long way in terms of race relations since the early 1960s. Obviously we still have a great deal of work to do, but if you ever invent a time machine, go to Mississippi circa 1963 and tell someone that 45 years later, we’d elect an African-American as president and see how many people believe you. (Also see how many know what the heck you mean by “African-American” – you might have to say “colored” instead.)
I’m fine with the movie’s attempts to remind us of the past; I just could live without the one-dimensional manner in which it works. I also wish the film came with a tighter narrative. At a too long 146 minutes, it throws in a number of unnecessary subplots and many bits of useless melodrama. For instance, Skeeter exists as little more than a plot device; why do we need to see the half-hearted attempts to delve into her love life? Those feel gratuitous and add nothing to the movie; yeah, we need to see her character’s basic existence outside of her work, but the romantic moments go nowhere and are depicted in such a sketchy way that they harm the film more than they help.
Despite all these complaints, I do think The Help has enough general emotional power to keep it reasonably interesting. Much of the credit goes to the actors, as they manage to invest their one-dimensional roles with real spirit and heart. Don’t be surprised when Davis ends up as an Oscar nominee; while she can’t overcome the script’s attempts to make Aibileen a one-dimensional saint, she brings life to the part well beyond what the screenplay gives her.
The others usually do quite well with their parts, too, though poor Howard can’t find a way to break Hilly out of her box. I’m not even sure she tries, as the film so desperately wants to make Hilly its axis of evil, but Howard does nothing to humanize the role. That’s a shame; at the very least, the movie could’ve attempted to offer some explanation for Hilly’s cruelty, but instead, it just leaves her as nothing more than a plot device.
I appreciate the message of The Help and find some merit in it, but the film too often shoots itself in the foot. In the end it becomes a watchable mess that carries us with it solely due to some good acting and the power of its basic story.
The Disc Grades: Picture C+/ Audio B-/ Bonus C+
The Help appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. This was an erratic transfer.
Sharpness seemed generally good but not great. Though definition was usually positive – and often quite strong – occasional sequences came across without terrific detail. This meant the movie remained well-defined most of the time but not with the consistency I’d like. No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects appeared, but edge haloes could be a bit of a distraction. While I didn’t think these were dominant, they cropped up on occasion and made the image a little tentative. Print flaws remained absent.
The film went with a golden glow typical of “period” flicks, and this worked well. Overall, colors looked reasonably rich and warm throughout the film. Black levels always came across as deep and dense, but shadows were less consistent, especially because the lighting didn’t seem to adjust well for dark-skinned actors; they tended to get a little lost in the low-light shots. All of this was good enough for a “C+“ but felt it probably should’ve looked better than it did.
I thought the film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack was perfectly serviceable and occasionally more impressive than that. Overall, Help offered a track with a fairly heavy forward emphasis. Music displayed a good stereo presence, while effects created a modest but reasonably involving image. Most of the mix consisted of general ambience, but the audio did come to life decently on a few occasions, such as during a thunderstorm. These instances popped up infrequently but added a bit of pep to the track.
Audio quality seemed positive. Dialogue came across as natural and distinct, with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. The score appeared bright and vibrant, and the music displayed good fidelity and depth. Effects usually were modest, but they still seemed clean and accurate. This was a more than competent presentation.
Despite the movie’s success, it comes with a surprisingly sparse roster of extras. We open with Making of The Help: From Friendship to Film. It goes for 23 minutes, 25 seconds and provides notes from writer/director Tate Taylor, author Kathryn Stockett, producer Brunson Green, executive producer Chris Columbus, production designer Mark Ricker, home owner Jack Johnson, and actors Octavia Spencer, Allison Janney, Jessica Chastain, Viola Davis, Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Sissy Spacek.
The show looks at the lifelong friendship between Stockett and Tate, the book’s origins and development, locations and influences, other relationships among folks involved in the film and how they affected the movie. We also hear about the novel’s adaptation, cast, characters and performances, sets and visual design, and the film’s legacy.
“Friendship” delivers an unusually good program, mostly because it reveals so many interesting tales behind its path to the printed page and then the screen. It offers a good mix of the personal and the professional as it delivers a winning take on the film.
In Their Own Words: A Tribute to the Maids of Mississippi lasts 11 minutes, 51 seconds and features Taylor, Spencer, and character inspirations Mamie Siler, Shirley Smith, Virlee Johnson, Marion P. Taylor, Carrie Paul Bell, Natalie Anderson, Lula Anderson and Carol Lee. We get some stories about working as a maid in the South. This isn’t especially hard-hitting, but it’s nice to hear some real-life notes about the material covered in the film.
Five Deleted Scenes fill a total of nine minutes, 36 seconds. We find “A Senator’s Son” (2:11), “Humiliated” (2:02), “Johnny’s Home” (1:46), “A Book About Jackson” (1:04) and “Keep on Walkin’” (2:05). Most of these offer minor bits of character exposition; they’re mildly interesting but nothing more. “Walkin’” is better, though, as it shows Minny’s fate; the final film tells us instead, so it’s an interesting variation.
Note that the running times include introductions from Taylor. He tells us about the scenes and why he cut them in his efficient, informative remarks.
Finally, we locate a Music Video for “The Living Proof” by Mary J. Blige. The video combines recording studio shots with clips from the movie. It’s a pretty dull piece and a forgettable song.
The disc opens with ads for War Horse and Real Steel. These also show up under Sneak Peeks. No trailer for The Help pops up here.
A second disc offers a DVD Copy of The Help. This delivers a standard retail edition of the DVD.
Simplistic but occasionally moving, The Help lacks consistency. When it works, it does so due to fine acting, but the performers can’t overcome the script’s lack of nuance and the tale’s attempts to create one-dimensional characters. The Blu-ray provides fairly average picture, audio and supplements. This is a sporadic effective movie but not a great one.
Viewer Film Ratings: 3.8 Stars
| Number of Votes: 5