Review of The Help


Movie Review: "The Help" --
Rating: PG-13
Length: 146 minutes
Release Date: August 10, 2011
Directed by: Tate Taylor
Genre: Drama
Rating: 4 out of 5

"The Help" tackles the issues of race relations in the southern part of the United States during the 1960s, when African Americans were still fighting for their civil rights. Starring Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, the story follows a white woman and a group of African American housekeepers as they find the courage to tell the stories of their lives. "The Help" is funny and uplifting, creating an entertaining and informative moviegoing experience for the whole family.

The story opens on Eugenia Phelan (Emma Stone), who is more commonly known as "Skeeter." Skeeter has just graduated from college and is at home for the summer while she searches for jobs, much to the dismay of her parents, who would rather see her marry a nice man and settle down to a safe, comfortable life. As Skeeter rediscovers the social scene in her hometown of Jackson, Mississippi, she is disturbed by the relationship between the town's white families and their African American household workers.

When she lands a job writing a cleaning column for a local newspaper, Skeeter interviews Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis), who works for a friend. After witnessing a slew of unsettling instances in which Aibileen and other friends' maids are treated poorly despite their hard work, Skeeter decides to write a book about their experiences. Her goal is to interview maids to find out what they really think of the families they work for and to gather the stories into a collection. She convinces Aibileen to participate and eventually gets a large group of maids to contribute.

"The Help" is, at its heart, Aibileen's story, surrounded by the smaller stories of the people in her life. As the film progresses, viewers learn about multiple subplots, from the competition among the white housewives to the subtle rebellions enacted by the maids. A particularly amusing-though slightly overwrought-storyline about a chocolate pie runs through the movie and provides the comeuppance of Hilly (played masterfully by Bryce Dallas Howard), the most unlikable character in the film. As Skeeter gets more involved in Jackson's complicated social circles, she also tries to get to the bottom of the fate of her own childhood maid, who is mysteriously absent.

The shining stars of "The Help" are Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, who plays Minny, Aibilieen's best friend. Together, the two embody the full spectrum of the human experience, from domestic abuse to triumphing over employers. Davis' standout performance is the foundation of the movie. As Aibileen, she is calm and collected, the very picture of dignity and grace under the most unimaginable conditions. With her characteristic sarcasm and snappy wit, Spencer is a scene-stealer, particularly in her interactions with her character's various employers. Her facial expressions are over the top and delightful, adding humor to even the most outrageous examples of blatant racism.

Emma Stone and the group of actresses who play Jackson's housewives give approachable, entertaining performances. Stone's performance as Skeeter is perfectly measured. Her character serves as the open-minded, reasonable touchstone for modern viewers. Bryce Dallas Howard stands out in her portrayal of the outrageously racist Hilly, and audience members will rejoice when she gets what she deserves. Elizabeth (Ahna O'Reilly) is empty headed and uncertain, torn between her love for Aibileen and her comfort with her maid's place in the world. Celia (Jessica Chastain) does not bother with race distinctions, and as a result, is kept out of society. Together, the women portray the progression of public opinion in the American South, giving today's audiences an idea of the depth of the era's prejudice and how difficult it was to change.

Although "The Help" takes place in an era of American history that is full of humbling and sad stories, it manages to find the good among the bad. From Skeeter's determination to change the world and her genuine love for her childhood housekeeper to the courage of the African American maids, the story celebrates human goodness. Minny's relationship with her boss Celia (Jessica Chastain) is undeniably sweet and provides viewers with a ray of hope for the white residents of Jackson. Although "The Help" has its share of heartbreaking moments and disturbing scenes, it is padded with enough comedy to keep viewers from drowning in a sense of helplessness and injustice.

Overall, "The Help" is a positive movie experience for the whole family. It serves as both entertainment and a lesson in how far the American culture has come in less than a century. Viewers will be touched by the film's underlying sadness and come away with a sense of hope for humanity as a whole.

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