9. The Help (2011)
Director: Tate Taylor
Stars: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney
Take the white savior out of The Help and you’ve got a great little film about black housekeepers in 1960s Mississippi who are struggling for acceptance and fair treatment. But then you’d also have a movie that barely tops 40-50 minutes, since director Tate Taylor’s adaptation of the 2009 best-selling novel by author Kathryn Stockett is mostly concerned with the unimportant pursuits of its main character, a young wannabe honkey writer named Skeeter (Emma Stone).
As the film’s two central maids, Aibileen and Minny, actresses Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer give awards-worthy performances, but, in Hollywood’s typically limiting way, they’d both only be eligible for Best Supporting Actress. Given a handful of powerful monologues, Davis and Spencer are only allowed to emote in Stone’s presence, dictating their true stories to Skeeter for her non-fiction book.
In theory, that’s not a bad approach, but The Help needs to white-wash its narrative through the ever-dreaded “savior” character and her own uninteresting subplots (the worst of which involves the dullest of love interests), instead of using Skeeter as a framing device to delve into Aibileen’s and Minny’s pasts. In other words, The Help could’ve used more of the actual goddamn help.