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Movie ReviewsRating: 4.5 of 5 yaps

The Help

It’s grown-up time. Summer has exhausted its silos of slow-mo explosions, CGI critters and second-rate superheroes. So who’s ready for a touching, serious film that should get attention come Oscar time?

“The Help,” based on the popular book by Kathryn Stockett, is a look at the relationships between black maids in Jackson, Miss., in the early 1960s and the white families for whom they work. Written and directed smartly by Tate Taylor, it’s a movie in the mold of weepy chick flicks, but with more brains and gumptions than we’re used to.

Yes, it’s the sort of film that looks at the plight of oppressed black characters through the eyes of a white protagonist who swoops in to save them — or at least fortifies their bravery enough to stand up for themselves.

But I found it to be a touching journey that manages to make most of the black and white characters relatable. And “The Help” has a surprisingly funny streak, in that tried-and-true laughing-through-the-tears way.

Viola Davis gives a knockout performance as Aibileen, the long-suffering maid to the Leefolt family. Her duties include cooking and cleaning, but her primary task is tending to the clan’s offspring. By her own reckoning, Aibileen has raised 17 children, but “they always turn out like their mommas.”

The greatest strength of “The Help” is in examining the sclerotic entrapment of the Jim Crow South, where black maids were adored by children who held for them a closer affection than for their own parents but who grow up to enforce the unspoken codes of segregation and subjugation.

It’s easy to talk about the illogical mindset of that time and place, where people were terrified to deviate from the social norm because “that’s the way things have always been.” This movie brings the contradictions of the pre-civil rights era to full, fleshy life.

Emma Stone, who between “Easy A,” “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” and this film is quickly establishing herself as the most ambitious actress of her generation, plays Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, recently graduated from Ole Miss with ambitions of becoming a writer. She tackles the cleaning-advice column in the local paper but soon hatches a plan to tell the stories of “the help,” the gray-uniformed maids who silently serve as the ties that bind the community.

Skeeter is initially motivated by selfish reasons: She feels ostracized by women her age who have all gotten married already, and the beloved maid who raised her, Constantine (Cicely Tyson, in convincing aging makeup), has abruptly ended her decades-long service with the family without any explanation from Skeeter’s brittle mother (Allison Janney).

Skeeter’s mother is less than subtle about her wish that her daughter would give up this crazy notion of a career and find a husband: “Your eggs are dying. Would it kill you to go on a date?”

But as the civil-rights movement finally makes its way to Jackson, Skeeter joins forces with Aibileen to tell their stories in hopes of changing things or at least bringing them to light.

The third leg of their triad of strength is Minny (played by Octavia Spencer), a woman whose spirit is indomitable and whose cooking is the best in Mississippi. Minny instructs her teen daughter not to sass the white folks but doesn’t take her own advice.

The heavy of the film is Bryce Dallas Howard, the angelic-looking red-headed actress who shows plenty of brimstone as Hilly Holbrook, the queen bee of the social set who rules with a velvet fist. Hilly thinks of herself as compassionate because she wants to maintain the current social arrangement as benevolently as possible — such as mandating separate bathrooms in white homes for the help because “they carry different diseases than we do.”

Hilly has a run-in with Minny that compels the latter to take her revenge with an act she comes to dub “the Terrible Awful.” Minny asks God’s forgiveness for her sin but doesn’t seem very regretful about it.

An unexpected character is Celia Foote, a spitfire blonde who lives on the edge of Jackson and can’t break Hilly’s vice grip over the Junior League set. She’s played by Jessica Chastain in a role that seems breathy and girly at first, but one that finds some pluck through a growing bond with Minny.

“The Help” is like a heaping helping of comfort food mixed with a nutritional social message delivered without preachiness or schmaltz. What a satisfying cinematic meal.

4.5 Yaps

 

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20 Responses to “The Help”

  1. [...] Vanessa Redgrave) and accompanied by sweet Virgilia (Jessica Chastain wonderful in 2011′s “The Help”) as he is made consul. The second is raw and brutal as resentment-filled Coriolanus descends deeper [...]

  2. Tracy C. says:

    Reading the book right now. Can’t wait to finish and then see the movie. Glad it’s getting good reviews from those that read the book first.

  3. Hollie says:

    I just saw this movie last night, and it was so good! I thought the movie was very well acted and touched on so many important points from this era. I cried several times during this movie! It had a good story line, and had a good ending. I was impressed, and really think it will win some awards.

  4. Indymom says:

    This is the first movie in a long time that followed the book. I loved it!

  5. Brandy says:

    The first movie that I liked BETTER than the book!

  6. Jeshua D says:

    The Help was absolutely amazing! It shows you the true point of view and the struggle that African American maids had to go through back in the day. It also shows how "normal" Americans were driven to keep up a good name for themselves, even if they had to play dirty. This movie made me laugh, and it made me cry. I loved it!

  7. Linda says:

    Boy, this is the year for Emma Stone. She was a great pick for this movie. I thought this movie was one of the best I’ve seen this year.

  8. Donald Stillerman says:

    I enjoyed this film. It told about an interesting time about life in the south.

  9. Brandon Scales says:

    I thought it was a really really good movie.

  10. Kim D. says:

    Absolutely loved this movie!! It also followed the book almost perfectly. I heard this will probably get an Oscar nod, I hope so.

  11. Brittany says:

    Great review! I really enjoy this movie. In my opinion one of the best of the year. I hope it get Oscar nominations.

  12. Kyle Carothers says:

    Thanks for the positive review, my wife and I will have to check it out!

  13. miskay says:

    I liked this movie, Ireally liked this movie

  14. Julie Wakley says:

    This movie was fantastic! I had heard of the book, but wanted to see the movie first and I am glad I did.

  15. Thea says:

    This movie looks so interesting. I hope to get a chance to see it before it leaves the theaters.

  16. gwinjay says:

    not a bad movie, but some parts were just unnecessary

  17. Lindsey M. says:

    I love, love, loved this movie!!!

  18. Brandy says:

    Glad you gave it such high praise. I am on a mission to wrap up reading the book, so that I can go and see the movie.

  19. Lance says:

    I want to see this movie so bad, and I can’t wait until I can actually make it into the theater to do so. I’m becoming a HUGE fan of Emma Stone, especially after Easy A. I’m glad this movie got a good review, it only cemented the fact that I’ll need to see it.