The Help (Blu-ray)

Buy this DVD at Amazon.com

Rating: PG-13

Starring:
Emma Stone as Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan
Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark
Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly Holbrook
Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson
Jessica Chastain as Celia Foote
Ahna O’Reilly as Elizabeth Leefolt
Allison Janney as Charlotte Phelan
Anna Camp as Jolene French
Eleanor Henry as Mae Mobley
Emma Henry as Mae Mobley
Chris Lowell as Stuart Whitworth
Cicely Tyson as Constantine Jefferson
Mike Vogel as Johnny Foote
Sissy Spacek as Missus Walters
Brian Kerwin as Robert Phelan

Directed by Tate Taylor

Special Features:
Two deleted scenes with introductions by Tate Taylor
Mary J. Blige “The Living Proof” music video
Making Of The Help: From Friendship To Film
In Their Own Words: A Tribute To The Maids Of Mississippi
Three additional deleted scenes with introductions by Tate Taylor

Other Info:
Widescreen (2.40:1)
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Sound
French and Spanish Language
French and Spanish Subtitles
Running Time: 102 Minutes

The Details:
The following is the official description of the film:

“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.”

“The Help” is rated PG-13 for thematic material.

The Movie:
It’s hard to believe that a bestselling book that popular among women featuring no male characters of any significance could actually be of interest and entertain men and women equally, but that’s certainly the case with Tate Taylor’s adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling novel

Set in Jackson, Mississippi during the early ’60s, we meet all the characters in the story at once in rapid succession as the local club convenes. Bryce Howard’s Hilly Holbrook is the head of the circle of young women in high society who have gotten married to wealthy men at a young age, all of them employing maids and governesses to watch their children. Viola Davis’ Aibileen has been caring for white women’s kids for most of her life and she’s aware of all the goings on around Jackson. Emma Stone’s Skeeter is a journalist student who has returned to town to get a job at the local paper giving cleaning advice. Seeing how her school friends are treating their maids, she convinces an editor at Harper’s that an article on the maids of Jackson through their perspective would be interesting to their readers, and she convinces Aibileen to sit down with her under the condition her stories will be kept entirely anonymous.

This is a true ensemble but being that the majority of the story is from Aibileen’s point of view, it’s up to Viola Davis to tie the different storylines together, something she does quite ably with a true powerhouse performance that proves her to be one of the finest dramatic actresses working today. We wouldn’t even be remotely surprised if she gets another Oscar nomination out of this. Emma Stone is great as always creating a character with quirks but also one grounded in the realities of the time.

Being a drama about serious circumstances during the South of the ’60s doesn’t mean there isn’t room for fun and laughs, a lot of which comes from Octavia Spencer, who is a true revelation, delivering some of the best lines and getting the biggest laughs with her highly-expressive face. Jessica Chastain plays a semi-humorous role as Celia, the community’s flighty treated as an outcast by Hilly after stealing and marrying her ex-boyfriend. Celia’s absolutely hopeless as a housewife, which is why she desperately needs a maid; when Hilly fires Minny, the latter jumps at the chance to help out the competition. Sissy Spacek plays a marginal character as Hilly’s senile mother, who helps lighten every scene she’s in, and Allison Janney is equally terrific as Stone’s mother, who is suffering from cancer.

“The Help” offers the type of multi-layered story that allows each of these great actresses to have a standout moment, and it never becomes an issue how scarce the men are and what little importance they play to the story. Skeeter does eventually meet a guy, but Taylor never feels the need to transform the movie into a romantic comedy or spend much time on relationships the women have with their men. Instead, it remains focused on the relationships between the women, and though it’s a work of fiction, the happenings amidst this small group in Jackson are kept in perspective with the cultural and historic significance of the times like the murder of Medgar Evers. Keeping these things balanced immediately makes the film better than other recent attempts at historically-relevant drama such as “Secretariat.”

It’s fairly obvious that Tate Taylor is a better writer than he is a director, because “The Help” isn’t that impressive in a technical sense. Even so, he’s able to pull every ounce of emotion out of every scene, which is certainly a strong achievement on its own. The movie does go on a little too long and many of the later scenes could have used a trim, but you do leave the theater warmed up and feeling as if you’ve watched something truly special.

A bit rambling at times, “The Help” may have been improved by a director a little more willing to cut down his own script, but the fantastic performances make it a real winner of a movie, one that entertains and moves you regardless of gender, age or race. For a fairly inexperienced director working from much loved material, that’s quite an achievement.

The Extras:
What the bonus features lack in quantity they make up for in quality. The centerpiece of the extras is “Making of The Help: From Friendship to Film.” But this is a lot more than a simple ‘making of’ featurette. You discover that director Tate Taylor and author Kathryn Stockett grew up together and have been lifelong friends. They both grew up in the town “The Help” was shot in and many of the key elements from the story were straight from their real world lives. Many of the locations the movie was shot in were areas they ran around in as kids. But the friendships didn’t end there – Taylor and Octavia Spencer were longtime friends, too. The more you watch this featurette, the more you realize the creation of this movie was a family affair. You also find out that despite the runaway success of the novel, it was a tough road getting there. The book was rejected by publishers many times and many studios also passed on the movie. It wasn’t until Steven Spielberg went to bat for Tate Taylor that they got the go ahead for this film. In the end this featurette is a real testament to persistence and friendship in making dreams come true. That sounds hokey, but that’s exactly what it is.

Another impressive bonus feature is “In Their Own Words: A Tribute To The Maids Of Mississippi.” Tate Taylor and Octavia Spencer interview women who were raised and worked in the South and basically lived the lives of the women portrayed in the films. They talk about their dreams, the meager salaries they were paid, and what it was like living as a black woman in the South. It’s an interesting bookend to the movie.

Rounding out the bonus features are some minor deleted scenes and the Mary J. Blige “The Living Proof” music video.

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