Cinema review: The Help

THE HELP: 12A

RUNNING TIME: 147 minutes

DIRECTOR: Tate Taylor

STARRING: Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek,

IT usually makes me nervous when a director gets their sticky mitts on one of my favourite books.

But praise be that in the hands of Tate Taylor, Kathryn Stockett’s best selling novel, The Help, escapes a fate worse than cinematic massacre.

In fact, I’ll even go as far as to say that at two hours and 20 minutes, the film stays about as true to the book as attention spans will allow, giving its weighty issues the screen time and all-star acting it deserves.

At the heart of the tale is Aibileen, played by Viola Davis with the sort of perfection that makes your throat ache from choking back tears for two hours straight.

She’s a black maid who’s made a career out of raising white babies for the rich, middle class ladies of a 1960s southern town, and who loves them more than their mothers do but must stand by as they grow up to be as narrow-minded as their  parents.

Unexpectedly, her plight – and that of dozens of her friends –  is given a voice by would-be journalist Skeeter (Stone) who far from conforming to the married fate expected of her, decides to write an expose on how the “help” were treated at a time when civil rights was but a twinkle in Martin Luther King’s eye.

It’s a heart-warming drama which ticks all of the boxes for helping the downtrodden and mistreated, though as some critics have rightly pointed out, the maids do gaze upon Skeeter as their saviour – undercutting the very idea that this is about giving strength to the oppressed and not a superior white woman allowing them a shot at equality.

But this film deserves an awful lot of credit. Stone gives a solid performance in what is arguably one of her more challenging roles to date, despite a couple of blips where we are reminded of the actress’ naturally “kooky” character.

Bryce Dallas Howard gives a wonderfully bitter performance as the evil conductor of the town’s racism and her chemistry with Octavia Spencer, who plays the sassy “mammy” figure given a second chance by equally outcast socialite, Celia (Jessica Chastain), is wonderful to watch.

Overall the film is tastefully made with beautiful attention to period detail and star quality support slots from Chastain and Allison Janney as Skeeter’s mother.

If The Help doesn’t pick up a string of awards I’ll consider it a crime.

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Review: Crazy Stupid Love

Crazy Stupid Love

CRAZY STUPID LOVE: 12A

RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes

DIRECTOR: John Requa and Glenn Ficarra

STARRING: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei

ASKING for a ticket to see “Crazy Stupid Love” is impossible to say without scowling. I’ve tried, and the acid reflux it caused was frankly painful.

For future reference I would rather report on the heartless murder of kittens than have my gag reflex tested in such a manner ever again.

Title rage aside, this film is actually very good: tying together various threads of romance in the manner of Love Actually minus the vomit-producing levels of schmaltz. 

In the lead role of Cal Weaver is Steve Carrell, channelling the downtrodden middle-aged routine he’s perfected from roles like The 40 Year Old Virgin.

Poor Cal has been unceremoniously dumped by his wife of 25 years, Emily (Julianne Moore), for no greater crime than getting a bit old and boring.

Drowning his sorrows in vodka-cranberries, he takes up residence on a bar stool to the annoyance of serial womaniser Jacob (Ryan Gosling), who gets so bored of Cal’s pity-party that he decides to take him under his bicep-bulging wing.

There’s the traditional transformation montage where buying new clothes and getting a hair cut will fix Cal’s woes, because, obviously, this will carry just as much favour with the ladies as Gosling’s outrageously chiselled abs.

But the reason Carrell works the character so well is because he get the sympathy vote: he’s like a puppy who has been repeatedly kicked in the face but resolutely carries on, not wanting to bother anyone.

“Sweet” doesn’t even begin to cover his hopeless attempts to get over his wife, though “hilarious” gets a look-in when he sleeps with a mentally unstable, ex-alcoholic teacher (Marisa Tomei). 

Elsewhere, Emma Stone plays the lovely but pithy lawyer, Hannah, who chops Jacob’s seduction tactics down to size, proving that even for self-confessed studs there’s hope for love.

The film does fall into a world of sentimentality towards the end, and there is a mildly inappropriate moment with a naked photo and a prepubescent boy, but it dodges the rom-com bullet of death with witty screenplay penned by Dan Fogelman.

A first class cast throwing themselves whole-heartedly into a believable and bittersweet world is just the icing on the cake.