Saturday, March 31, 2012

Viola Davis, in The Help

approximately 42 minutes and 44 seconds
30.4% of the film

The film

An aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960s decides to write a book detailing the African-American maids' point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis.

You can read my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

Had it been more dramatic, it would’ve worked better, though it definitely has its powerful moments. The best part of it is the acting ensemble, from which I’d name Viola Davis, Allison Janney and especially Jessica Chastain, who gives a magical performance.

Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark

Oscar season is a funny game, when people forget to be happy about their nominations and go for the kill. This year in the Best Actress category we had apples and oranges (such different performances), and both the apples & the oranges campaigned really hard. And Viola lost; while I stepped back from praising it too much (as I was cheering for the competition), it’s one of a kind in this line-up: no other actress put so much heart into her performance.

Viola plays Aibileen, a maid in the 1960s Mississippi, who, encouraged by a young white aspiring journalist, starts telling her story of working for white families, raising their children and the injustices she has to deal with. It’s a journey for Aibileen herself, as she learns about courage and stops being afraid of taking her destiny into her own hands. It’s a very dramatic role and written with plenty of tears and breakdowns, therefore offering a lot of Oscar scenes.

To get this out of the way: I really like this performance, because it’s the stuff I usually go for: an emotionally rich character, with plenty of tears & played with great dignity & skill. And Viola does all that, but with the film on her side: unlike Meryl, she can easily depend on what the screenplay has to offer and most of the scenes she’s in are written in her favour, giving her the chance to steal it from her co-stars. Her presence is great for the film, because you know something interesting is about to happen and she brings the real into The Help by playing it with no false moves.

Never do we doubt that she clearly understands Aibileen and her experience as an actress (and maybe also her life experience) is used at its best here: it seems like she knows exactly where to look, where the camera is, when to hold back on her emotions and when to allow the tears. And boy, do we get plenty of tears: her emotional scenes are truly heartbreaking – from the story about her son to the final confrontation with Miss Hilly. From the loving way she talks to the little girl she takes care of to the quiet humility when having to be in the presence of any racist conversation.

Viola does an amazing job in making it look so easy and natural and relatable. Her performance feels so honest because she immediately creates an emotional connection with the audience – it’s a likeable character that turns into a memorable performance because of Viola’s ability of delivering the exact emotions that a viewer would expect. While it’s not connected to the actual performance, the one issue I’d have with the nomination is that I’m not 100% convinced this is a leading performance. But Viola is so good at what she does and, with the writing on her side, she starts and ends the film, therefore leaving the overall impression that The Help is all about her; when it’s not. It’s an almost from me.


dinasztie said...

Well, I agree. In the end, for me it's also an almost 5 because... I don't know. I was just more comfortable with 4.5. She's the only thing that adds real depth to The Help (OK, maybe Tyson as well though for me it's personal reasons, I love her so much).

And actually she's supporting if we look at strictly the part, it's her impact that makes her leading. Or not... Whatever.

You're gonna switch from Meryl and pick Viola, I'm quite sure (after 1985, I can see it happen). :P But I'm saving the word traitor until I see your conclusions. ;)

And yes, I still think she's going to win for Won't Back Down, which is, according to her, her first real feature film leading role.

And I'm still ├╝ber pissed that people are SOOOOO heartbroken for her. Great Glenn? Great Glenn? Great Glenn?

Alex in Movieland said...

Don't underestimate my loyalty to Meryl's performance. But they're so different. :) Once I'll see Iron Lady again (I'm saving her for last), I'll be able to give an objective verdict.

I dunno about Won't Back Down... who's gonna back the film? Does is even have a release. I trust less. :)

dinasztie said...

Yes, maybe. :) The ultimate fun I would have on THOSE pundits if she sided with Harvey Weinstein. I don't know. I so feel it. But I can equally strongly feel that it's happening for Laura Linney, which would be just as glorious.

Cole said...

I loved the movie, and the ensemble, but I am not satisfied to see Viola in the Leading category. For, she's clearly supporting, even Octavia Spencer has more time on screen, and Emma Stone is on screen more than one hour, I think she is the only lead.

Viola had the right momentum at the perfect moment, and became an early favorite, until Streep picked the crown.

Anonymous said...

Well, for me Spencer and Chastain stole the movie, but Davis was also outstanding. Certainly better better than Streep (the most overrated actress of our time, and i like Meryl).

JC said...


You got all the right words to say about her performance. :)

BTW, I was just curious, I also counted her time, and I counted 42:47 (3 sec difference), but the percent for me was 29.28%. What is the denominator that you used that made her have 30.4%? :D

just curious.

Alex in Movieland said...


I don't know how you do your counting... when it comes to the lenghth of the film, I just count from the actual beginning of the film (text directly related to the film, voice or image; not company credits) to the last moving image (in this case, included also the final credits, as she keeps walking).

JC said...

Awww, now I see.

I was counting the movie's time right from the start (the company logo), up to the very end (the end credits). That's why...

thanks! :)

JC said...

BTW, your system makes a lot more sense. An actor will never get such high screentime percentage if I also count the unrelated parts.