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8.25 out of 10

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Help

Heartbreaking and Uplifting

Director: Tate Taylor
Writers: Tate Taylor, Kathryn Stockett
Cast: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Sissy Spacek, Cicely Tyson, Allison Janney, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard

The Help movie image
SYNOPSIS: In the early 1960s, aspiring journalist Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan returns to Jackson, Mississippi and strikes out to tell the stories from the perspective of the 'Help', the African American maids and nannies who have spent their lives taking care of the white families children and households.

REVIEW: The Help is a 2009 novel written by Kathryn Stockett centering around the lives of several main characters living and working in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi. Written
from Stockett's novel and directed for the screen by Tate Taylor, writer and director of 2008s Pretty Ugly People, The Help takes a humorous, heartfelt and hard look at the cultural chasms between the races.

1960s Jackson, Mississippi is a southern town where an African American woman is good enough to raise a white woman's child but not good enough to use their employers toilet, where segregation is still instituted and carried out, and where the concepts of Civil Rights are soon to become a real movement. Eugenia 'Skeeter' Phelan (Emma Stone) returns after college graduation more enlightened and ready to pursue a career in journalism. Listening to and abhorring the way some of the 'southern belles' think of and treat their maids, Skeeter reaches out to Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis), a middle-aged African American maid who has spent her life raising white children. First using Aibileen's advice for an advice column, Skeeter soon realizes there is a greater, deeper story to be told. Mississippi State law states that any written work that supports the civil rights of the negro community could land the writer in prison, so Skeeter, Aibileen, and soon the outspoken sass-talking maid Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) must meet in secret to get the maids' stories committed to paper. Along the way, Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny must deal with Junior League head and community social leader Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) as Hilly strives to get an initiative passed to have separate bathroom facilities installed outside houses where 'colored' help is employed.

The Help focuses on the relationships, good and bad, between white southern families and their African American maids. From households where the maids have raised the children from early ages and have become an integral part of the family, to households where the maids are called upon to make sandwiches for a husband just arriving home while being expected to hush a crying child in the same moment without regard for her worth, each instance defines the deep-south, deep-rooted opinion of of the races.

Emma Stone, in a role more challenging than anything she has done before, brings a naked naivety and hopefulness to Skeeter that does the character proud. Viola Davis as Aibileen expands a performance just as powerful as her Oscar nominated Best Supporting Actress role for Doubt. Octavia Spencer adds as much sass to Minny Jackson as her character adds spices to her Crisco fried chicken. Bryce Dallas Howard's Hilly Holbrook exudes arrogance, contempt and fear of cultural change as she strives to propagate and expand the established segregation that already exists. Pairing off against Minny for more comic effect is Jessica Chastain as white social circle outsider Celia Foote. And rounding out the main cast are a couple of mothers... Allison Janney as Skeeter's ailing health cultural coward mother Charlotte and Sissy Spacek as forgetful, but compassionate Missus Walters. Every performance is riveting, powerful and enlightening.

The Help is a heartfelt, heartbreaking, uplifting, humorous and hard look at the social sentiment between the races as recently as 50 years ago, and the distance that equality and understanding still needed to travel. Powerful performances by powerful actresses, The Help is one of the films to watch come Oscar time. For the immediate future, though, be sure to keep an eye on Minny Jackson's pies.

WORTH: Matinee or DVD

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