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The Help movie poster

The Help: Movie Review

Genre: Drama, Comedy
Rated: PG-13
Directed by: Tate Taylor

Starring: Viola Davis, Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sissy Spacek, Allison Janney, Jessica Chastain, Cicely Tyson
Released by: Dreamworks

In Short: A brilliant adaptation of the best-selling book, this story of the 1960s civil rights movement as told through the lives of a group of Southern women is sure to be a contender come Oscar time.

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"The Help" Stirs Up Bad Memories and Real Emotions

Simply put, "The Help" is a great movie. Devotees of Kathryn Stockett's best-selling novel of the same name will be relieved that director/screenwriter Tate Taylor has stuck closely to her compelling story set in Jackson, Mississippi, circa 1963. Fans of great acting will enjoy the wonderful performances by an ensemble cast of actresses, who bring the story's distinctive characters to life. It's also a chick flick that men, too, will enjoy. After all, it's a fascinating historical glimpse into what America was like moments before desegregation.

"The Help" is the tale of two worlds: The wealthy, privileged white society dames on the one hand, juxtaposed against the hard-working black women who are their "help," i.e. the maids who raise their children, cook their meals and clean their homes. It's a status quo that has existed for generations in that genteel Southern town, but the times they are a changin'.

The story begins while the "Jim Crow" laws are still on the books in the South, requiring blacks to use separate public bathrooms and water fountains, etc. and basically to not mix with whites. But as the story unfolds, the civil rights movement has begun; and women of all races are starting to revolt, too, starting to consider that they might be more than simply arm candy for men and mothers to children. Those two things collide in Skeeter Phelan (the delightful Emma Stone), one of the rich white young women, who dreams of becoming a writer. She sets out to chronicle the tales of the town's black maids and succeeds in getting a book contract to do just that.

Emma Stone in The Help Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer in The Help

Skeeter enlists the aid of Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis, in a beautifully nuanced, Oscar-worthy performance), a middle-aged maid she has known her whole life, to help her amass the stories. It quickly becomes obvious that the pair must keep the project a secret, for what comes out in the stories is the level of prejudice and racism that permeates Jackson society. Besides, Skeeter and Aibileen cannot even be seen socializing; it just isn't done.

Every woman in the film is wonderfully played, from Stone's and Davis' excellent portrayals of the two protagonists to Bryce Dallas Howard's take on the horrid Hilly Holbrook. They all deserve plenty of recognition and Academy Award voters will be hard-pressed to pick the best of such a stellar cast.

"The Help" is a multi-layered, emotional look into a past that is really not very far behind in America. By the time the intertwining stories come to a climax, you'll be cheering for some of the characters and hissing at others, but one thing is certain: You will feel strong emotions by the time the credits roll, and will have a lasting insight into what the world was like in the South before everything changed.


Reviewed by Jenny Peters


(Updated: 08/10/11 CT)

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