By Gary Murray
Starring Viola Davis, Emma Stone and Bryce Dallas Howard
Written and directed by Tate Taylor
Running time 127 min
MPAA Rating PG-13
Selig Film Rating FULL PRICE
Back in the old studio days there was a division that made ‘women’s pictures’, films that were pushed for the female audience. Today even without the studio system, the major production companies make films that will generally appeal to the females. The Help is being marketed that way, which is a shame. This is a film that everyone should see.
The story is of Skeeter (Emma Stone) a recent college grad who wants to make it big as a journalist or a novelist. Back in her home town of Jackson, Mississippi things haven’t changed much. The Jim Crow laws are still in effect in a very biased ‘separate but equal’ south. Skeeter is dealing with her cancer stricken mother and the mystery of what happened to her family maid.
Skeeter visits her best friend Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) who is a young married and corralled all her friends to being baby machines. They all have ‘colored’ maids and ‘negro’ help. Aibileen works in one of the households, basically being a second mom to a little girl. The more Skeeter watches this world, the more she thinks that it is wrong.
Skeeter approaches Aibileen to tell her story, something that could cause major problems with all the blacks who need jobs, even without any benefits. After a series of humiliations, Aibileen decides to work with Skeeter. Eventually she gets Minny (Octavia Spencer) to craft what is now a book. With the promise that was President Kennedy, a remarkable and improbable agreement goes between Skeeter and the maids. They fight their battle for equal rights in one of the most prejudice parts of the USA.
Emma Stone is taking on a grown-up role for the first time and just shines outside of her comedy comfort zone. She is the activist, the future hippie, who wants to fight any and all injustice. While the maids are afraid of the Jim Crow laws, she wants them to rise up and claim equal rights.
Viola Davis has been making huge waves since Doubt and continues that streak of important films. There is such a subtle nuance in her acting style where she conveys a multitude of emotions in a single glance. It is a wonder to see her work.
These two actresses are overshadowed by what would be supporting performances. Dallas Bryce Howard is amazing as the rotten to the core Hilly. She is the queen dragon of the status quo and does everything in her power to keep the troops in line. She is not only evil, but vindictive. It is one of those major scenery chewing roles that actors relish. The other standout performance is Octavia Spencer’s Minny. She is all sass and fire, knowing the fine line between going under and over the top. Her ‘terrible-awful’ is the highlight of the piece.
Writer/director Tate Taylor does an outstanding job of shaping the material and keeping all the different plot lines going. He gives all his cast their moment to shine. His only problem is that he just didn’t know how to end his film. It feels like it is ending about five times before it actually rolls the end-credits.
The book maybe the worst kept secret in the county, but the movie The Help is a solid little gem of cinema. This is a film that just about everyone should see and enjoy. I cannot recommend it enough.