What I Saw: The Help
Suspension of disbelief is a regular requirement of science fiction and fantasy genres, and the same is true for historical fictions. While there were specific scenes in The Help that I enjoyed, and many moments when the actresses’ performances drew me in, the swings back and forth between racial injustice, caricature, sentimentality and toilet humor were too abrupt to keep me engaged inside the story for the full two and a half hours.
We all know that life was much worse for black maids than what is presented in this movie (see the statement from the Association of Black Women Historians here), but when you tell a story against the backdrop of a historical injustice, you usually take artistic license in order to make a point about the modern world. And sometimes you use humor to soften up the audience so that they are more inclined to learn a hard lesson. Unfortunately, The Help discourages the viewer from considering parallels to today. It relies almost entirely upon examples of racism that its target audience believes are both universally wrong and safely in the past.
Which, it turns out, may be a perfect strategy for selling tickets and getting Oscar’s attention:
The film may not teach us much about overcoming modern racism, but it has mastered the lessons of the modern Oscar campaign. The credits run alphabetically, a nod to the feminist collaborative process which also just happens to provide the necessary cover for Viola Davis and the studio to campaign her as either Lead or Supporting Actress, depending upon how the field looks at the end of the year. Mary J. Blige’s “The Living Proof” plays over the final--and purposefully extended--image of the film, encouraging audiences to stay and listen. Aibileen even goes so far as to declare “We’re not doing Civil Rights. We’re just telling stories,” thus providing a brilliant excuse for those who wish to reward the film for fulfilling one, both or neither of these functions. And in a strange way, even the weaknesses of the plot only serve to highlight that the acting is the strongest part of the movie, which could prove to be a selling point for seeing these actresses in more films.
I predict that The Help will win two Oscars, and secretly hope that the second acceptance speech calls out the Academy by saying: “I can’t believe you ate a second slice!”
Supporting Actress: Viola Davis (currently ranked 1) is the clear front-runner in the supporting actress race, but a win in that category does not necessarily lead to the career trajectory that she deserves. She could easily make the case that her role is really the lead of the film (because it is!) That tends to be a much more difficult category for both the win and the nomination, but both are still possible if the film continues to do well at the box office and her campaign takes off. Either way, it is my hope that we see a lot more films with her as the star.
Original Song: Mary J. Blige for “The Living Proof” (currently ranked 1). This song seems to me like the kind of thing that the Academy will love. You can watch and listen to the music video over at Julian Stark’s page.
Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer (currently ranked 2) also seems like a sure thing for a nomination at this point, and could quite possibly win if Viola Davis goes lead.
Costume Design: Sharen Davis (currently ranked 12, but will likely move up in my next set of predictions.) Sharen Davis has been nominated twice before in this category for Dreamgirls and Ray, and a third nod is quite possible here.
Adapted Screenplay: Tate Taylor (currently ranked 12)
Art Direction: Mark Ricker and Rena DeAngelo (currently ranked 14, and will possibly move up in my next set of predictions)
Lead Actress: Emma Stone (currently ranked 16)
Supporting Actress: Cicely Tyson (currently ranked 17)
Best Picture (currently ranked 21, and will surely move up in my next set of predictions)
Film Editing: Hughes Winborne (currently ranked 28)
Cinematography: Stephen Goldblatt (currently ranked 31)
Best Director: Tate Taylor (currently ranked 41)
Makeup and hair (currently unranked, but will be included next time)
Original Score: Thomas Newman (currently unranked, but will possibly be added next time)
Supporting Actresses who are currently unranked but may be considered in future predictions: Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, Bryce Dallas Howard, Aunjanue Ellis.
My Lamb Score: 3 out of 5 Lambs
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