After seeing “The Help” (and watching Viola Davis’ amazing performance), I was pretty excited to meet the Oscar nominee. What I didn’t expect, though, was to find that the actress, wearing a fitted red dress and a chic bob, looked absolutely stunning. In both “Doubt” and “The Help,” Davis is the epitome of middle-aged frumpiness, and let’s face it, no one looks good in a dowdy housecleaner’s uniform. But Davis looked a good twenty years younger than her character in person, which just made her performance as Abileen that much more remarkable. Weighed down by decades of holding her tongue, veiled (and not so veiled) insults by employers and the death of her son, Abileen is old before her time. Davis, of course, is nothing of the sort.
But that doesn’t mean she didn’t take the prospect of playing a maid in the pre-Civil Rights South seriously. Davis doesn’t have to take any role offered to her, and this one could have easily stepped into the realm of cliche. Ultimately, though, it was Abileen’s depth of character that won over Davis. That’s definitely a lucky turn for Dreamworks, as it’s hard to imagine any other actress in the role. Even though I had problems with the script and often felt pulled out of the story by earnest heartstring tugging, I wasn’t able to tune out Davis’ performance, which was utterly restrained and yet devastatingly effective.
Her co-star Emma Stone was mostly happy to cede the spotlight to Davis, but that didn’t mean she was shy and retiring. The pair was perfectly comfortable joking around about how much Southern fried everything they ate while on location. Stone wasn’t as comfortable talking about “Spider-Man 3,” however. We’re just guessing, but we bet the fried chicken and biscuits on that set weren’t anywhere near as good as “The Help”‘s catering in Memphis.
“The Help” opens nationwide tomorrow.