The Help – Movie Review

Based on the best selling novel by Kathryn Stockett (find my review of the book here), The Help is a drama about three Southern American women in their struggle for racial equality in Jackson, Mississippi.

Emma Stone stars as Eugena “Skeeter” Phelan, a recent college graduate going back home, who wants to break out of the mold society has limited her in. She’s an aspiring writer who happens to live during the era of Civil Rights Movements. Viola Davis stars as Aibileen, a maid working for a Mrs. Elizabeth, her main job being taking care of Elizabeth’s little girl, Mae Mobley, whose mother doesn’t care about. Octavia Spencer stars as Minnie, a snarky maid who literally can’t keep her mouth shut but whose cooking is so superb that her white employers tend to turn a blind eye to her blabbing.

After a proposal by Skeeter’s friend, Miss Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard), to have separate bathrooms for the colored help, the idea in Skeeter’s mind of the necessity of change begins to blossom, especially after it gets fueled by an enthusiastic New York publisher who wants her to write. So Skeeter sets to write a story about the help in Jackson. Her first two maids to go on board? Minnie and Aibileen, who will tell Skeeter their deepest and darkest stories – stories they’ve hidden for such a long time they’ve become permanent scars in their souls. Aibileen tells her about all the little kids she raised, about how Elizabeth is an unfit mother, about how she doesn’t treat Mae Mobley like a real mother should. Minnie, who also happens to be Miss Hilly’s former maid, tells Skeeter about the “horrible awful thing” she did, which involves a special ingredient in a pie, to which you will have heartfelt laughs. But it is their struggle as a community that will bring the other maids on board – the chance to tell their side of the story, to be liberated – at least on paper – and to somehow seek salvation.

The performances in the movie are top notch. Starting with Emma Stone, she is one of our generation’s most promising actresses. After a great performance in Easy A and being the best of the actors in Crazy Stupid Love, she is back here not to steal the show but to offer an emotionally subtle performance that is exactly how the character she portrays is: not flamboyant but calm and reserved. Stone’s most emotional scenes come when she remembers her maid Constantine and discovers the story of how Constantine left them and it is in those scenes that she truly shines.

Viola Davis’ performance is being touted by critics everywhere as a tour de force performance. And it truly is. There’s one scene in particular, when she tells the story of how her son dies, where she plays on your emotional strings like a banjo in a country song. But her performance throughout is always nuanced, always great and always emotive. Probably the movie’s highlight scene, its ending, is purely her work. Davis is truly captivating. Whenever she focuses her eyes on another character in The Help, you almost see her gaze into that character’s soul. She is penetrating, invasive… and you welcome it with open arms.

Octavia Spencer is equally great as Minnie. She brings humor to the movie. It may be dark humor sometimes – literally – but it will still get you to feel happy that even amid all the horrible things these people had to go through, there’s still room for happiness in their lives. She gives hope to the other characters in the book and to you, as a viewer, that there could be a better tomorrow for them. She portrays Minnie’s strength subtly. She comes with a bruised eye to work and acts as if this wasn’t caused by her alcoholic husband. But deep down, below the strong outside of Spencer’s character, you can feel the volcano of hurt waiting to erupt.

The movie’s director, Tate Taylor, is Kathryn Stockett’s best friend since childhood. This deep understanding between such two friends has helped him bring her book to screen while entirely preserving the message she was trying to get across on page. While there are many differences between book and movie, some of which I had wished to be included in the movie, the screenplay Taylor wrote still works as a great adaptation, one of the better ones for a book to movie adaptation.

The Help is also a stunning movie visually. And even though there’s obviously no visual effect work here, this means recognition should be given to the cinematography crew that worked on it, most notably Stephen Goldblatt, whose previous works include Julie & Julia, Charlie Wilson’s War. etc…

If there’s anything to take out of The Help it’s that everyone is a victim – even those white socialite women. Yes, they are the victim of their ignorance, of their repressed memories of the black women that brought them up. The black women are victims of being at the wrong time. The little white girls are victims of negligent mothers.

At the end of the day, The Help can be summed up by its most emotional scene, which also happens to be its conclusion. As Aibileen leaves the house of her employer, Elizabeth, she sits by Mae Mobley and asks her to repeat what Aibileen has been teaching her every day. Mae Mobley stares into Aibileen’s deep, dark eyes and repeats: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”


Crazy, Stupid, Love – Movie Review

Oh Crazy, Stupid, Love how high my expectations were for you.

In my head, Emma Stone can’t go wrong in a movie. Especially after the awesome Easy A. Put her in a mix with Steve Carell, Julianne Moore and Ryan Gosling and the movie result shouldn’t be that bad, right?


Crazy, Stupid, Love was atrocious.

Cal Weaver (Steve Carell) and Emily Weaver (Juliane Moore) are a not so happily married couple out on a date when the wife blurts out that she wants a divorce and that she has cheated on him. Five minutes later, they are divorced and living in separate homes. So naturally, like any devastated husband, Cal goes out to one bar over and over again, repeating his sad story so everyone can hear, over and over again. It is then that he catches the attention of the bar’s prime womanizer Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling) who decides to give Cal a makeover and become his wingman. Soon enough, Jacob’s efforts succeed and Cal starts hooking up with every woman he can get.

At the same time, Jacob meets Hannah (Emma Stone), an aspiring lawyer preparing for her Bar examination and sooner or later, the two fall in love. Add to the mix Cal and Emily’s son having a crush on his older babysitter who has a crush on his dad, Cal. And then Cal sleeping with his son’s teacher, played by Marisa Tomei and you get a sense of what Crazy, Stupid, Love is.

Perhaps it’s the super weak script, perhaps it’s the unclarity that faces the film but Crazy, Stupid, Love had too many things going for it. And it failed to deliver on every single account, even on the laughing part. Sometimes, a comedy movie gets you to laugh. But at the end of the day, you can say it wasn’t a good movie. What if a “comedy” movie doesn’t get a chuckle out of you and is a bad movie? That’s Crazy, Stupid, Love right there.

Out of the bunch of actors and actresses in it, Emma Stone is probably the best. And no, I’m not biased. She delivers the movie’s rare funny lines and gives life to her character that all the other characters lack, and it’s not really the actors’ fault. Julianne Moore has such an underdeveloped character that it could have been omitted altogether. Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell lack chemistry as the movie’s main protagonists. The cast should have known better than to take on such a project.

The movie, moreover, has not one but two directors. It’s hard for me to believe how two “creative” heads thinking about making one movie could miss the mark in the way that they did. And none of it is fun to watch. The pace drags and lulls like the rickety joints of an arthritic ninety year old man.

And the script. Let’s talk about how ridiculously cliche the script is. There’s one point where one of the characters blurts out on screen: “Rain… how cliche.” Care to guess what happened before the rain? Yes, there was a fight. Sometimes, screenwriters can turn a cliche idea and make something good out of it. After all, not all aspects of life are out of the box. This is not the case here.

Crazy, Stupid, Love’s title is a very wrong representation of the movie. At least two thirds of the title. No, it’s not crazy. It’s as tame as movies go. No, there’s nothing to love about it. And yes, it is totally stupid. The movie’s fault? It never gets crazy or stupid enough to make you love it.

Upcoming 2011 Movies To Be Excited About

I’ve come up with a list of ten movies coming up in 2011 that you should definitely be excited about:

10 – Larry Crowne:

Don’t judge me but I can’t help but be excited about a movie that has Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks.

9 – Transformers 3: Dark Side Of The Moon

Sure, it’s already a financial hit, a week before its release, but as someone who was thouroughly entertained by the first two Transformers movies and even though Megan Fox will not be present in this one (sadness), I expect this to be one of the biggest movies of 2011, at least financially. And if you’ve liked the first two, this one should be a no-brainer for you to go watch.

8 – Crazy Stupid Love:

Emma Stone: “Damn, it’s like you’re photoshopped” *insert lots of laughter* —> *googles release date*

7 – Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows

I have really enjoyed the first Sherlock Holmes movie and hopefully the sequel delivers as well.

6 – One Day:

Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess spend the night of their college graduation together and throughout the years, they revisit each other to see where they are in their lives. Based on the trailer, this looks like it’ll be a very interesting movie.

5  – The Tree Of Life:

This movie has been very polarizing. So I have no idea what to make of it. But it was one the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Festival, so it must be good enough, no?

4 – Where Do We Go Now?

The new Nadine Labaki Lebanese movie. Set for a September 22nd release in Lebanon, this is probably one of the most hyped about Lebanese movies this year. It doesn’t hurt that some of it was filmed in my hometown.

3 – A Dangerous Method:

A movie with Keira Knightley, Vigo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender about Freud? I’m there. Just watch the trailer. The movie looks brilliant!

2 – The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo:

Just finished the book upon which this movie is based and it’s a highly entertaining read. Set for a late 2011 release, the movie stars Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara and, even though no trailer has been released yet, judging by the movie’s poster, this will be great.

1 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

This should be a no brainer. Epic trailer. The movie is based on an epic book and it’s the conclusion of the series that was an important part of the upbringing of millions.

Easy A – Movie Review

Easy A. The best comedy of the year, aka the best teen comedy in a long, long time.

The movie tells the story of Olive Penderghast, a high school girl who’s as off the radar as you can go. A rumor starts that she lost her virginity and soon enough, she becomes the most popular girl in school. Inspired by the novel “The Scarlet Letter” from where the letter “A” in the title comes from, it shows how the precocious teenager in Olive got turned due to word-of-mouth alone into something as close to a harlot as you can get – without the sex.

Her fictional one-night with her fictional college boyfriend soon becomes the introduction of many guys asking her to fake sleep with them to improve their reputation. A gay classmate comes up to her and in one hilarious scene, they fake sleeping with each other so well that your ribs would almost crack from laughing. But as with all comedies, soon enough Olive’s world will come crashing down as it all becomes unbearable and things she hasn’t even pretended to do are affixed to her…

Olive’s parents, played by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, are hilarious. They excel at being the hippies, carefree parents. You can’t help but laugh everytime one of them tries to console or give guidance to Olive. They are so out of place that I thought Olive was adopted at first. They are still so taken by their long-ago sexual and chemical experimentation that they don’t even care about all the turmoil in their daughter’s life. Their advice: Oh but it’s fun! You can’t help but laugh.

You might think the plot is cliched and whatnot – after all, most high school comedies are. But what elevates this movie is the outstanding performance by Emma Stone, who, in my opinion, should have won her category at the Golden Globes. There is no other one who deserved the best actress in a comedy as she did. She spun this movie out of her likeability alone and made it into what it is. Like or hate the movie, you can’t but like her character. She shows such promising talent that how she was a relative unknown before this is mind-boggling.

The movie also stars Gossip Girl’s Penn Badgley as Olive’s love interest. Amanda Bynes returns into the movie business as the overzealous Christian who wants to stop all the “sinning” going on in her school. She is really good as well, especially when she’s in one of her prayer sessions.

Easy A may not be groundbreaking. But for once in a long while, Hollywood gives you a comedy that is refreshing, breezy and likeable without going into the comedy of shock-value. And for that, I love it.