September 2, 2011
Review - " The Help " - (in theaters) By Roland Hansen
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Directed by: Tate Taylor
Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia
Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Ahna O'Reilly, Allison Janney, Sissy
A class act such as "The Help" is rare enough in Hollywood. Coming at
the tail end of summer blockbuster season, it's almost unheard of.
"The Help" is the sort of film that studios typically save for the holiday
prestige season in November or December, when Academy Awards
voters start thinking ahead to the films they want to anoint. Come
awards time, many of them likely will be thinking of "The Help," whose
remarkable ensemble of women offers enough great performances to
practically fill the actress categories at the Oscars.
From its roots as a collaboration between lifelong friends Kathryn
Stockett, who wrote the best-selling novel, and Tate Taylor, the film's
writer-director, through the pitch-perfect casting of Emma Stone, Viola
Davis, Octavia Spencer and their co-stars, "The Help" simply seems to
It's hard to imagine a better movie coming out of the screen
adaptation of Stockett's tale of friendship and common cause among
black maids and an aspiring white writer in Jackson, Miss., in 1963.
The film maybe is a bit longer than it needs to be, but that's quibbling.
There's not a moment of it that isn't worth watching, and fans of the
novel will be thrilled that so much of it made it onto the screen.
This is popular big-screen entertainment at its best. Provocative without turning preachy, tender without tumbling into
sentimentality, "The Help" is above all enormously enjoyable.
That's thanks to the rich characters Stockett created, to the marvelous empathy among the actresses portraying them, and
to the previously untested talent of filmmaker Taylor. He and Stockett grew up in Jackson, met in preschool at age 5 and
have been friends ever since (another longtime friend from Jackson, Brunson Green, is one of the producers).
They grew up in Jackson a decade or
so after the novel's events, but the
deep sense of time and place Stockett
presented on the page is preserved in
the film. Taylor combines grandly
detailed sets, costumes and hairdos
with well-chosen music and a keen
understanding of Deep South mindsets
to create an authentic time capsule of
an intransigent way of life eroding amid
the civil-rights movement.
The characters don't fully realize the
impact of the changes swirling around
them, allowing viewers with half a
century's cultural hindsight to live the
events through these women's eyes in
a fresh and even profound way.
Stone, Davis and Spencer forge
something quite beautiful, a sense of
sisterhood and equality that unfolds
with ease and grace, never feeling
forced or untrue to their era and
Davis, a past Oscar nominee for
"Doubt," gives a master class in quiet
fortitude, Aibileen's pain, anger and
compassion visible in every subtle
glimpse from her eyes. Stone, the
female lead in next summer's "The
Amazing Spider-Man," continues to
show why she's one of the best young
performers in Hollywood; intelligence,
energy and charm just pour out of her
As Skeeter's old pal Hilly, the town's
autocrat of racial propriety, Bryce
Bryce Dallas Howard is truly scary, playing against her usual sweet type. Howard's Hilly and some of her squealing, cloying
cronies at times seem like caricatures of '60s young wives and mothers. Yet Howard really goes for it, reveling in her
character's self-righteousness and "separate but equal" cruelty.
The cast is superbly filled out by Allison Janney as Skeeter's ailing, conflicted mother; Jessica Chastain as Minny's lonely,
needy new boss; Cicely Tyson as Skeeter's beloved maid; Ahna O'Reilly as Aibileen's employer; and Sissy Spacek in a small,
scene-stealing role as Hilly's mother.
The dynamic created by Skeeter's perkiness, Aibileen's mournful warmth and Minnie's irrepressible sauciness keeps the
pace unflagging while the proceedings are further enriched by supporting performances from Jessica Chastain as a kooky
but kindly social outcast and Sissy Spacek as Hilly's Alzheimer's-beset, but still spirited mom.
With frizzy hair, formless, unpolished fashion sense, and an earnestness that feels born out of decency and large-
mindedness, Stone is ideal as Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, the Ole Miss graduate who comes home to Jackson dreaming of a
writing career in New York. Skeeter soon begins to notice the treatment of "the help", the black women who work at the local
homes, after returning to Jackson. Raised by a maid herself, Skeeter is drawn to the women who raise her friends’ children,
who clean their homes, and do their shopping, yet are not afforded basic human rights in the community or on the job.
Advised by a Manhattan publisher to try something daring she is inspired to write a book that will shake the foundation of her
hometown, Skeeter lobbies for help, to get the straight story from the maids. She wants to write the good and the bad the
women encounter, an illegal action for all involved in Jackson. With their livelihood and freedom on the line, "the help" start
talking. Skeeter convinces Aibileen Clark (Davis) to share stories of her life as a black maid cleaning up after white people
and raising their children. Though initially reluctant to cooperate, Aibileen decides to take the risk based on a sermon she
hears in church.
Eventually Skeeter also manages to win the confidence of Aibileen's sassy best friend Minnie (Octavia Spencer), whose
anecdotes include the off-color tale of how she took revenge on Hilly for firing her. Spencer's the great breakout here, the
sass and biting comedy Spencer infuses in Minny is a constant delight.
As racial tension and violence erupts throughout the South, more maids step forward to join the writing circle and tell of the
hardships, humiliations and occasional subversive triumphs they have experienced under their white employers.
There are some menfolk in "The Help,"
too, led by Chris Lowell as Skeeter's
suitor. But this is a grand Hollywood
rarity that's all about women.
And it's a far better film than Hollywood
normally churns out this time of year,
one that deserves to linger well into
The Help serves as a reminder that we
are all equal in God’s eyes. Produced
by DreamWorks Pictures and based on
Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling book,
The Help offers a unique look at pre-
civil rights movement Jackson,
The cinematic retelling of Stockett’s
novel garners a real emotional
reaction. Engaging from start to finish,
The Help reveals the humor, sadness, joy, and courage of the women who dared to change their black and white society.
Director Tate Taylor’s take on Stockett’s story will move you – if not to tears, then to an appreciation of the sacrifices and
courage individuals made to make America the equal land of opportunity. The Help features a fantastic cast: Emma Stone as
the plucky Skeeter, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer as maids Aibileen and Minny, Allison Janney as Skeeter’s former beauty
queen mom, the manipulative Hilly Holbrook (played by Bryce Dallas Howard), and her mother, Sissy Spacek. All stand strong
in these substantial roles, but the standout performances are given by Spencer as the bold and beautiful Minny and Jessica
Chastain as Celia Foote, an out-of-towner who is looked down on by the “proper” mothers of Jackson.
Not a tearjerker that keeps you in a state of depression, The Help offers humorous moments and touching scenes, as well as
uplifting messages from the pulpit of Minny and Aibileen’s church, including teaching on loving your enemy and God’s
provision for the Israelites to be freed from slavery. At almost 2 hours and 20 minutes, it is a long movie; however, there isn’t a
moment when you’ll feel like you are waiting for the movie to end. Time flies as you are fully engrossed into the lives of these
women as they begin to tell their side of the South’s story.
From the messages of courage and the power in loving your enemy comes a story of a few women who dared to challenge the
system set in Jackson, Mississippi. It touches on the evil and the good done by white and black, showing the extremes of our
humanity. For its inspiring story and cast of exceptional talent, The Help earns high marks and a spot on my favorite movies of
2011 list. Dramatizing the stupidity of prejudice and the expansive possibilities open to those who overcome it, "The Help" is a
richly humanistic tale mature viewers will welcome.