Adapted from the 2009 bestseller by Kathryn Stockett, The Help is the story of Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan as she first acknowledges the ironic double standard that applied to colored domestics in the segregated South. Her only response (because outright activism would have been far too radical) was to begin a study on the hired help in her hometown of Jackson, Miss. Thus pushing the proverbial envelope in an unknown and possibly dangerous direction.
Emma Stone, who gives a sympathetic and truly entertaining performance, plays Skeeter. Fortunately, as is usually the case with films set in this time, it’s the women of color who truly steal the spotlight and make it less about white discomfort and more about the struggles Black women faced for centuries. Viola Davis, who gained critical acclaim for her stellar performance in Doubt gives an equally moving performance as the wise, compassionate Aibileen who has dutifully raised white children for nearly all her life. If you thought she deserved the Oscar for Doubt just wait until you see her in this role. Her best friend Minny is played by Octavia Spencer, whose hot-headed attitude and expressive facial features make her just as impressive, if not a bit intimidating to watch. Bryce Dallas Howard is both highly entertaining and particularly insulting as Skeeter’s longtime friend Hilly Holbrook, a stereotypical cross between southern belle and society woman. The ever-enchanting Sissy Spacek, who provides wonderful comic relief in a few otherwise dull scenes, plays her mother.
Now if anyone out there is interested in this film because of the period, believing it will uplift you with tales of the Civil Rights Movement, save your money and watch a documentary instead. This is one of the most unrealistic movies I’ve seen in a while from its plot to the lack of southern accents. Anyone with family down South is aware of the protocol used during Jim Crow and I can assure you in the days of “separate but equal” and publicly advertised lynchings there’s no way Minny would have gotten away with her one woman revolt. The Klan would have made sure of that. However, if you’re looking for a story with strong Black women (who aren’t actually men dressed in drag) then you’ve got the right movie. As a composition The Help is delightfully engaging despite it’s slow pace. At the end of the day it’s exactly as it should be – interesting but only marginally thought-provoking.
The Help receives a PAR
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