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At the dawn of the civil rights movement, three Mississippi women are about to take one extraordinary step. Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss and her mother won't be happy till she finds a husband. Aibileen, a wise African-American maid and caretaker suffers after the loss of her own child. And Minny, Aibileen's sassy best friend, struggles to find and...
For more about The Help and the The Help Blu-ray release, see the The Help Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on November 29, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney
Director: Tate Taylor
» See full cast & crew
The Help Blu-ray Review
"She didn't pick her life. It pick her..."
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, November 29, 2011
In an open letter to fans of The Help, National Director of the Association of Black Women Historians Ida E. Jones wrote: "Despite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers." She doesn't stop there. "[It] also misrepresents African American speech and culture. Set in the South, the appropriate regional accent gives way to a child-like, over-exaggerated "black" dialect. For centuries, black women and men have drawn strength from their community institutions. The black family in particular provided support and the validation of personhood necessary to stand against adversity. We do not recognize the black community described in The Help, where most of the black male characters are depicted as drunkards, abusive or absent. Such distorted images are misleading and do not represent the historical realities of black masculinity and manhood. Similarly, the film is woefully silent on the rich and vibrant history of black Civil Rights activists in Mississippi." She concludes by writing her most damning (and most accurate) indictment of the film: "The Help is not a story about the millions of hardworking and dignified black women who labored in white homes to support their families and communities. Rather, it is the coming-of-age story of a white protagonist who uses myths about the lives of black women to make sense of her own."
Strong words. But while other portions of Jones' letter seem, at least to this writer, to be attacking an entirely different film -- one with almost comically sinister, racially maligned intentions -- many of her charges ring true. Writer/director Tate Taylor's warmhearted tear jerker offers a decidedly Hollywood approximation of the pain and suffering endured by an oppressed minority in the Jim Crow South of the 1960s, and a quote-unquote white Hollywood approximation at that. Like The Blind Side, The Help's story is told from an inherently detached white perspective, its life lessons are awarded to a white protagonist, and its greatest battles are forged and fought within white circles. At the risk of offending, I think it's even safe to say that the film is aimed at a predominately white audience, if it can reduced to such terms. But The Help isn't ill-intentioned or offensive, any more than The Color Purple or The Blind Side were ill-intentioned or offensive. (An easier case of racism could be made against those anxious to write off The Help simply because the book's author and the film's writer/director aren't African Americans.) It does strike me as a sugar-dusted fairy tale, though, with valiant warrior princesses, impoverished damsels in distress and unremittingly evil queens of high society all vying for the same Best Supporting Actress nomination. It's a movie made with Oscar gold, not black history or white guilt, in mind, and it misses the mark, even when it isn't actively spinning a fairy tale for the popcorn-munching masses.
I should start by admitting I was initially (and completely) fooled by The Help's premise. Embarrassing, I know. Even without a "based on a true story" tagline, I just assumed that's exactly what Tate's tall tale was: a film based on the true story of an aspiring white writer named Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) who wrote a Civil Rights-era book documenting the mistreatment and abuse suffered by black houseworkers in Jackson, Mississippi. At first, I thought its fairy tale elements were simply a product of the Tinseltown machine, a limp-wristed adaptation and some heavy, heavy PG-13-driven editing. Imagine my surprise and dismay, then, when I soon discovered it was all a ruse published not in 1964 but in 2009; the warm-n-fuzzy Civil Rights daydream of author Kathryn Stockett. She spoke with many a former maid during her research, so that provided some measure of relief, but my shock was palpable. With so many true stories of overcoming prejudice and hardship still untold, can a fictional story be as important? Could it be taken as seriously? While quite a few films spring to mind that suggest the answer is yes, not one of them is The Help. The performances are uniformly good; in some cases -- the phenomenal Viola Davis, the critically overlooked Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain, and a wry, dry-witted Sissy Spacek -- the performances are outstanding. Davis and Spencer lend the film the bulk of the legitimacy it earns (even from the wings in supporting roles), and for good reason. Stone may be the fire-maned framework of Tate's drama, but it's Davis' wholly convincing turmoil and Spencer's innate spunk and spirit that steal scene after scene. Others don't fare quite so well, although by little fault of their own. Bryce Dallas Howard's Hilly Holbrook is a one-dimensional caricature, Allison Janney's cancer-stricken Charolette Phalen is wasted in a paper-thin revelation that isn't much of a revelation at all, and Nelsan Ellis, Chris Lowell and Mike Vogel are... wait, why are there men in this movie? Tate doesn't seem to know.
Tuned in cinephiles will also get the sense that every encounter, defiant stand, emotional crossroads and class rebellion hinges on a carefully calculated, melodramatically inclined contrivance. The narrative doesn't flow, it lurches from pithy argument to exciting empowerment to unsettling reality without much in the way of connective tissue. Consequences rarely resonate and victories merely accumulate; Hilly and her socialite sheep are little more than nasty middle school girls and Tate's Jackson is the most one-note Civil Rights hotspot to grace the screen in recent memory. It doesn't help that The Help teeters between more gut-wrenching trials and tribulations to oddly timed, almost jarring bits of comic relief. I'm sure Minny's chocolate pie is a crowd pleaser -- I laughed and felt the surge of satisfaction that comes with such sassy comeuppance -- but, tonally, it breaks stride, making the film more episodic in nature than Tate or Stockett probably intended. Come to think of it, for a 142-minute chunk of pre-packed social emancipation, The Help is woefully chained to its own genre-crossing, culture-clashing concept; to the point that it loses sight of its purpose while perusing no less than six subplots at any given time. Even when the credits come, we're left with a strangely sobering denouement that isn't in keeping with much of anything that precedes it. Hilly essentially gets the last laugh, and the film ends on a sour reality check. Why a reality check is included at the end of a concertedly uplifting film is another seemingly random decision in a string of seemingly random decisions; each one made in the moment and for the moment rather than with an awareness of its place in the fabric of The Help. There's still something enjoyable about Tate and Stockett's blend of historical fiction and inspirational truthiness, even if that enjoyment isn't nearly as deep or as long-lasting as it could have been, but again, the result -- a dark fairy tale, but a fairy tale all the same -- misses the mark, misses countless opportunities, and misses out on the more resonant, more meaningful and far more honest story at its core.
The Help Blu-ray, Video Quality
Disney's rich, vibrant, exceedingly faithful 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer is simply gorgeous, even when The Help is basking in the high heat of the sweaty Mississippi sun. Colors are warm but lifelike, skintones are lovely, contrast never fails, and shadows are deep and enveloping. Detail is also immaculate, from the slight creases that frame Viola Davis' weary eyes to the tiniest freckles on Emma Stone's nose to the stitching on a maid's apron. Fine textures are exacting, closeups are beautifully refined, edges are crisp and clean, and delineation is revealing. Better still, the presentation is almost perfectly pristine. Some ringing may catch your attention here and there, but it isn't a serious distraction in my estimation. Artifacting, banding, aliasing, crush and other anomalies are held at bay as well, and only a few instances of failing clarity and pressing noise made their way into my notes. All in all, The Help looks every bit as good as a recent theatrical release should, and then some.
The Help Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Don't be too quick to shrug off The Help's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. While it doesn't boast the bombast of a blood-n-bullets actioner or the aggressive kicks of a high intensity thriller, there's something to be said for the realistic, altogether immersive soundfield it features. The summer chorus of 1960s Jackson, Mississippi is in full swing; crackling radios, rustling trees, whispering winds, crunching dirt roads, chirping insects and all. Even when Skeeter or Aibileen retreat to their respective corners, the near-silent spaces and deserted refuges they inhabit are eerily convincing, complete with absorbing acoustics and subtle but noteworthy directional effects. Dialogue remains nicely grounded and perfectly intelligible throughout as well, dynamics are suitably impressive, pans are as smooth as Southern silk pie, and LFE output, though restrained, lends welcome weight to the proceedings. Quiet as it sometimes is, Disney's lossless track doesn't falter.
The Help Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Help Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Help is best viewed with a bag of popcorn and a box of Kleenexes; critical thought and careful reflection only serve to slowly but surely dismantle Tate's historical fiction piece by piece, scene by scene, missed opportunity by missed opportunity. It isn't offensive as some suggest -- true -- but it isn't as important or moving as others insist either. It's value lies in its performances, some of which might just garner Oscar attention. So come for Davis, Spencer, Chastain and Spacek's performances, enjoy Stone's somewhat self-aware good-deeding, and try to ignore the many things that don't work so well. What does work well? Disney's Blu-ray release. While it disappoints in the extras department, its near-perfect video transfer and immersive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track are nothing short of sunny Southern delights. Ultimately, if you loved The Blind Side, you'll probably love The Help. If The Blind Side didn't quite sit well with you, though, approach The Help with caution. Chances are it will rile the same sensibilities and sour the same palettes.
The Help: Other Editions
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The Help Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Help Blu-ray - October 5, 2011
This December, Dreamworks and Walt Disney Home Entertainment will bring The Help to Blu-ray. An adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's bestselling novel, the late-summer box-office hit stars Emma Stone (Easy A) as a young woman whose interest in the African-American ...
• $5 Off Coupon for The Help (Expired) - August 31, 2011
While Dreamworks and Walt Disney Pictures have not set the official home video release date and Blu-ray disc details for The Help, Amazon is currently offering a special $5 coupon to be used towards The Help's pre-order listing. This promotional discount only ...
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