Monday, December 26, 2011

Tyler Perry's The Great White Book

Welp, while I'm sitting here, waiting for a DVD to "format"... in this day and age! The very idea. Now it says there's five seconds left! That's the longest five seconds I've ever seen, and the progress bar's still only at half way. Computers are just dumb that way; they have no conception of time. As usual, I'm forced to multi-task, so why not take this time to write about the latest and greatest last movie I saw recently? In this case, it was the biggest feel-good historical hit of 2011, The Help. As usual, I couldn't decide which image to go with. Do I go with the lightning strike at about 30:18? Or do I go with the fallout of the movie's big secret at about 1:47:21? As usual, I pick both... but I couldn't help but notice that that landscape in which the lightning bolt hit looks a little bit like English countryside with their carefully sculpted lines of trees demarcating properties. GOLDBLATT!!!!! No wonder the movie's budget is so small. They're using bloody stock footage!

Well, where to begin? Well, since the movie's about prejudice, I'll reveal MY personal prejudices. When I see certain names, like, say, the NEW Participant Media... they've frankly become a little too cozy with the Rick Warrens and the Mel Gibsons of the world for my taste. And now with Chris Columbus and his 1492 Pictures production company, and while he's busy thinking about his legacy, the rest of us hardcore cinema buffs are thinking about his crimes against cinema. Home Alone and Bicentennial Man come to mind. I'll let I Love You, Beth Cooper slide; well, he was rebounding from Rent, so why not pine for the lost 80s of your 30-somethings? Not to mention the film's director. A director's got to have a rough name, in my meek, humble opinion. Quentin Tarantino. Francis Ford Coppola. Joel and Ethan Coen. Alfonso Cuaron. Guillermo del Toro. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Pedro Almodovar. Andrew Niccol. Krzysztof Kieslowski.... Tate Taylor? TATE TAYLOR? No, no... this is a Disney sit-com star's name. A pop star under 20 years old's name. The name of someone starring in the Twilight movies. Not the name of an Oscar-nominated director. But I guess his previous work, Pretty Ugly People, is as close as we're going to get to a gritty Marc Rocco-esque '90s pic.

HOWEVER... THAT BEING SAID... I did appreciate many facets of the picture. The lush cinematography, provided by Lethal Weapon 2 and Batman & Robin cameraman Stephen Goldblatt. Old school camerawork: real film, good dolly and crane movements of the camera, and a relatively still camera when it comes to emotional moments... apparently, the trick of having a shaky camera during scenes of emotional turmoil is FINALLY falling out of favour. And the production design: the ratty interiors of the rooms that the black men and women live in look like the real deal. And the acting: very good acting, and I'm assuming the Southern tics in the actors' speech were spot on. Either spot on or too textbook. Sounded pretty good to me. I'm sure they got the best 1st A.D.s in the biz to work on this pic and keep things moving on time. The story's simple enough to understand, but the thing it gets right is the little details of everyday life in the South in the early '60s..... Really? You're scared of black people's germs? They serve your food, they clean your house, they nurse your children all day... but they can't use the white bathrooms in the house. That makes a lot of sense. Sorry, there I go into standup comedian mode again. So, the film works on about 9 of 10 of its facets up to a point.

But then... the spell the film casts is slowly lost, piece by piece. I started to wonder: is Bryce Dallas Howard playing two parts by any chance? Hilly AND the ditzy Celia? Apparently not, but I suppose both girls are just as busty. Bryce didn't show off as much. I guess this Jessica Chastain's taking off; I just saw her in The Debt! Very different vibe in that one. And Emma Stone is fine as the young white female lead of the pic, although I did keep thinking of Lindsay Lohan for some reason. Of course, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer kinda steal the show, Octavia a little more so. On the other hand... Serenity Johnson from Halfway Home? No, there's something wrong with that. She's not allowed to be this good in this movie after being in that show. And she does a fine job selling the concept of comfort food, but I learned that lesson a few years ago for myself, thank you very much. I'm paying the price for it now by going to the gym as often as I can. And to nitpick the sound editing, doorbells probably didn't make the stock doorbell sound back in the 60s that they do now, but what do I know, right?

And then, as all these strands start to unravel the film completely, there's the matter of the book that's being written. The girl's given deadlines that don't seem to be reachable with '60s typewriter technology. And while the toilets on Hilly's front lawn was a nice visual gag, would that kind of thing really happen? Really? And wouldn't there be a harsher punishment for "Skeeter" for that typo? Dontcha think? And of course, the little girl using one of the lawn commodes, well... I thought Dave did it better in Jackass 1, don't you folks? Kinda turned The Help into an Adam Sandler pic for me... Say! Wasn't he named Skeeter in one of his films? A lot of people going potty in The Help, come to think of it. Dramatic at first, comedic later on in the 2nd and 3rd acts.

And now, we come to the film's big reveal... I wouldn't dare spill the beans on the film's big "awful horrible" big secret... is that what she called it? Let me check the IMDb... nope, nothing there. Anyway, in dancing around what the big secret of the movie is, it reminds me of a similar culinary secret in Fried Green Tomatoes, and I can't help but think that this kind of thing happened to all you Southern honkies probably more often than you think. All of you probably weren't saints! Unfortunately, the secret doesn't stay secret too long, and pretty soon it ends up in the young white girl's book, and it becomes the highlight for the dozens of readers we see reading the book. This is sadly where I had to part company with the film. Even the most progressive New York publishing house of the 60s probably wouldn't print such a thing in a book. You'd have to wait for Philip Roth's work in the 70s, am I right? Something like that? Don't you think it would be a bit more memorable as a publishing event? This is the reason why Indiana Jones only set Hitler temporarily back and didn't kill Hitler himself in the Indy films: historical consistency! The Wild Wild West effect is more pervasive than I thought: our explosion-happy, attention-span-shortened present is creeping into our depictions of the past.
So, to summarize. I'll rate it this way: the First Act of the film gets four stars, the Second Act three and the Third Act one and a half. What's that average out to? I'll say two and a half. A three star movie is a slick Hollywood vehicle I'll probably only see once, like The Client or The Talented Mr. Ripley. A three star movie is slick and unmemorable, but at least it's logically consistent. The Help plays too much hooky with history at the end. In closing, let me just ruminate on what Aibileen would tell the special chilluns in her life: "You is kind. You is smart. You is important." I can't help but think of another Movie Philosophy Guru who used to say "I feel good. I feel great. I feel wonderful." Oh, you know who I'm talking about! But in case you don't, here's the hyperlink anyway. You let me down, Onion and Village Voice, so I gotta do your dirty work for you. Good luck at the Oscars, The Help! You probably won't need it since you were #1 for three weeks, I'm thinking.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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