09 November 2011
  The Help a film full of unsung stars
In Contention's Guy Lodge once again hits the nail on the head in this very late rumination on The Help. Although I don't know why he waited this long to finally see and write about the film, he is one of the first reviewers I have seen to cite Jessica Chastain's performance as perhaps the film's best. I couldn't agree more.

The Help is no doubt a rather populist film, much more accessible than some of the year's other earlier releases now jockeying for awards attention (see: Meek's Cutoff, Drive, The Tree of Life). And I am of the opinion that there isn't necessarily anything wrong with that. Much like with the overly-eviscerated recent best picture nominee, The Blind Side, The Help is able to take source material that too easily could have become a Lifetime-movie-for-women and elevated it to a smart, well crafted and eminently watchable film. And much of the success of the film has to be credited to its astonishing cast.

If The Help is practically assured one accolade this awards season, it has to be the SAG best ensemble prize. Every performance in this film is nuanced and finely crafted, and they all fit together so compatibly. That is, Emma Stone gives an excellent performance, but it is the equally excellent work done by Allison Janney as her mother that really makes her work shine. In this way, it seems to me that no single performer in this movie is really any more deserving of awards attention than any other.

However, from the very beginning, critics have pointed out two of the film's actors as the cream of the crop: Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. Davis no doubt gives an incredible performance as the film's lead and deserves the Oscar she seems destined to receive for the role. However, in terms of supporting performances, I am not sure I would pick Spencer's as the film's best.

Once again, I think all of the film's actors performed ably, but the one that really affected me the most was that of Jessica Chastain as the town outcast Celia Foote. Chastain's performance was just more multifaceted, a little deeper, and frankly more affecting than Spencer's sassy maid Minnie Jackson. In leaving the movie, the one character from the film that stuck with me days afterwards was Chastain's.

The good news is that Spencer and Chastain are likely to each find themselves on the best supporting actress slate come this February. However, Chastain's nod is likely to come for what for me is her much less interesting turn in The Tree of Life. Still, I will be happy to see her get some attention regardless. T
 
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