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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

The Make & Break of Film: The Help vs The Ides of March

This essay is going to be short. George Clooney’s written/starred in/directed movie “The Ides of March” hasn’t the characters nor life that Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer deliver in “The Help” because, simply put, Clooney’s movie was more style and “of the moment” than the humanistic, affecting story of black maids in 1964 Mississippi.

My biggest problem with “Ides” is its speedy plot that jumps over who these people are, and so loses its chance to take the mind of the viewer into what these people want and why they are doing what they’re doing to get it. The simplest character is Clooney’s governor/pres candidate; we don’t know this guy beyond his cardboard cutout of pretty much every/any Democrat out there in the poly-sphere. Next most transparent is Philip Seymore-Hoffman. His characterization of a campaign director gets one dramatic scene that pays off, but this comes too late and is, unfortunately, a mere stepping stone for the lead character’s move toward pulling his values inside out to get what he wants. Ryan Gosling’s strong-willed, though oddly naive, character is the centerpiece of this political thriller. Of course this character shows himself, but he’s more a cartoon, a wish-upon-a-star for political enthusiasts to hang some semblance of honor on their favorite poly-operatives type (not to say anything about the candidates themselves). His preening self-delusion about the political gamesmanship his chosen profession dishes up, and the politicians’ do-anything-to-win attitude and can’t-do-wrong personalities, is enough to choke on by the final credits. Basically, at the end of the film, and to sum up, it’s a cliché that’s older than Willie Stark.

On the other hand, “The Help” immediately draws you into its story by letting its characters speak and act in ways that are as far from cliché as the Earth and Moon. Why? Because they show their world in words and actions we can look into, see working themselves through, and so we’re able to draw inferences quickly and summations sooner than later. Never mind that this world is 1963, and is Mississippi, and takes us into the middle-class homes of bigots and shanty homes of black maids. What we, the audience, see is the recidivism of downtrod lives against society and gov’t that not only doesn’t care, but has manufactured itself to function just so. But both of these has a human face, that speaks and acts and reacts. The three rules of Aristotelian drama.

Winner: character

An Empty House: cliché

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