"The Help" Wasn't Actually Very Good

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 24 2012 9:41 AM

"The Help" Wasn't Actually Very Good

I'm bending and abusing the rules governing a "politics and policy" blog, yes, but I want an answer: Why did people like The Help so much. Its Oscar nominations nominations seem largely fair. Viola Davis, Jessica Chastain, and Octavia Spencer all did fine work with mawkish material. You could say the same thing about the other overtly political movie on the list, The Iron Lady, where Meryl Streep used mediocre, obvious material as the foundation of a great Margaret Thatcher impersonation. But The Help was was a how-not-to-do-this example of uplifting civil rights drama.

Hang on, spoiler warning.

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Let's start with the device that moves the entire third act of the movie: Minnie, played by Spencer, bakes her feces into a pie and tricks her horrible old employer Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) into eating it. The poop jokes has a lofty, traditional place in American cinema, but I was never sure what it had to do with the drama of black liberation from Jim Crow. Every plot twist protected its characters from danger, whether it was Viola Davis's lead being basically ready to retire when Hilly defrauds her out of a job, or Skeeter's (Emma Stone) boyfriend being a generic racist who was easy to abandon when her New York life beckoned.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.