Premiering first in the UK and finally making its way to the U.S. via Acorn TV, HELP is the most gut-wrenching and important film I have seen about the COVID pandemic. It is the CONTAGION of this generation, but actually rooted in real-life experiences of patients and understaffed, overworked attendants suffering from the effects of COVID-19 in care homes across the United Kingdom. But this story is not localized to the UK; these same issues have surrounded American nursing homes as well. And with the recent spike in COVID cases and hospitalizations, it made the film even more relatable and tragic.
Twentysomething Sarah (Jodie Comer) is struggling to find a job in her hometown of Liverpool. After a rather disastrous interview, she is shocked to receive a job offer at a local care home, which has patients that range from the elderly to those with cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Sarah soon realizes that this is her calling; she is a natural caregiver and is not afraid to give her bosses attitude if it means sticking up for the welfare of her patients. Tony (Stephen Graham), who is suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s, is one of those patients Sarah cares a lot about, almost like a brother.
Being a caregiver at a facility like this is hard enough, but unfortunately it isn’t long before COVID is added to the vulnerable environment. Sarah and her coworkers are unequipped for a pandemic. With no cleaning materials or properly stocked PPE, they are unable to stop the spread of the virus between their susceptible patients, nor are they able to properly protect themselves. To make matters worse, due to their lack of workers, Sarah is left to man the facility by herself when everything starts falling apart.
Jodie Comer is the best actress of her generation and one of the best actors working today period. And needless to say, I was not disappointed by Comer’s once again effortless, multi-layered performance in the face of intense subject matter. Comer’s innate charisma and empathy towards all of the defenseless patients makes you immediately relate to and root for her character to succeed, which is the most critical element of the film. When she was anxious, I was anxious. When she cried, I cried. And did I mention many of the film’s most tense and affecting scenes were ONE LONG TAKE! It’s like they cranked up the difficulty from 10 to 100. This is one of Comer’s most emotional and heartbreaking performances yet … and that says a lot.
The other highlight of the film is Comer’s sibling-like chemistry with Graham. Both characters bring out the best in each other, with Sarah helping Tony calm down from outbursts brought on by frustration and Tony stepping in to help Sarah at her hour of need. Without giving anything away, by the end of the film I was so invested in their relationship and the two ending up okay, I was a wreck.
And much should also be said about the phenomenal supporting actors, who really round out the incredible ensemble and give the care home patients character arcs of their own. They are never nameless, faceless patients that fade into the walls of the care home. Instead, they are dynamic, memorable people, each with their own stories that will haunt you as things start to get worse and worse with COVID.
I am not going to lie and say HELP is a fun, breezy watch, but it is extremely eye-opening and important, challenging you to see the world outside of your bubble. I heard about COVID ravaging nursing homes and assisted-living facilities on the news, but seeing it dramatized in this way really made it hit home. In only 90 minutes, I fell in love with each and every patient in the facility and I think this film is a beautiful tribute to all of the victims of COVID and the men and women who sacrificed everything, including their lives, to try to help their patients and neighbors.
HELP is streaming on the Acorn TV app now!
My Review: A