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The Help (2011)

PG-13   |    |  Drama


The Help (2011) Poster

An aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960s decides to write a book detailing the African American maids' point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis.

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8.1/10
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  • Octavia Spencer in The Help (2011)
  • Jessica Chastain in The Help (2011)
  • Sissy Spacek and Schuyler Fisk at an event for The Help (2011)
  • Allison Janney at an event for The Help (2011)
  • Schuyler Fisk at an event for The Help (2011)
  • Sissy Spacek at an event for The Help (2011)

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13 August 2011 | ferguson-6
7
| Minny Don't Burn Chicken
Greetings again from the darkness. The film is based on the controversial best selling novel by Kathryn Stockett. It was controversial because it is the story of Jim Crow-era maids written by a white woman. Yes, the book is actually the fictionalized story of a white woman getting black maids to discuss their lives as maids for white folks. Rather than get into some politically correct dissertation on the book, movie or story, I will only comment on the film itself ... this very entertaining movie that also manages to deliver a timeless message.

Let me first start by saying that this movie is incredibly well acted. It is quite rare to have so many developed characters in one movie. There are some characters we immediately connect with, while others draw our ire each time their face appears. The script and these fine actresses utilize humor to point out the shameful behavior of those who saw themselves as superior. The humor doesn't soften the ignorance or abuse, but it does make the film infinitely more watchable and entertaining. Please know this is not a documentary.

Ms. Stockett's novel has a very loyal following in addition to the naysayers. A two hour film must, of course, take short cuts and trim story lines. Still the key elements are present. Based in Jackson, Mississippi during Governor Ross Barnett's term we see the social shark, Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), in her full glory of ignorance, entitlement and superiority. We see her minions and followers emulating her moves while trying to gain her approval.

The story takes off when Skeeter (Emma Stone) graduates from Ole Miss and returns home and takes a job at the local newspaper. Possessing observation skills and humanity that her lifelong friends can't comprehend, Skeeter desperately wants to tell a story from the perspective of the maids. As expected, the maids are hesitant, but Aibileen (Viola Davis) does relent. The stories begin to flow and soon the robust Minny (Octavia Spencer) joins in. Others soon follow their lead and Skeeter's education goes to an entirely new level.

That's really all of the story I care to discuss. The brilliance of this one is actually in the details ... individual scenes and moments of acting genius by most of the cast. In addition to those mentioned above, Jessica Chastain plays Celia, the "white trash" outcast who so desperately wants to be allowed back into the girls' club. Ms. Chastain was seen a few weeks ago in the fabulous "Tree of Life" in quite a different role ... I would venture to say no actress will have two roles of such variance this year. Also, Allison Janney plays Skeeter's cancer-stricken mother, and Sissy Spacek is Hilly's mother who gets tossed aside before she is ready to go! The great Cicely Tyson makes a brief appearance as Constantine, Skeeter's childhood maid who was done so wrong after 29 years of service. Mary Steenburgen has a couple of scenes as a big NYC book publisher.

As a said, this is pure acting heaven, but I must single out Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. Viola is so powerful at the beginning and end of the film, and Ms. Spencer is a force of nature during the middle. This movie is really their story and these two ladies make it fascinating, painful and a joy to behold. They both deserve recognition at Oscar time.

There are so many fantastic details to the film. At times, it is like watching a classic car show ... the late 50's and early 60's models are works of art. The wardrobe, hair and make-up are perfect in setting up the class differentials. The TV and radio segments provide context and timing with the deaths of Medger Evers and JFK. Even the books on Skeeter's shelf make a statement: To Kill a Mockingbird, Huck Finn, Native Son, and Gone With the Wind.

This story takes place 50 years ago and director Tate Taylor does an admirable job of bringing Stockett's novel to the big screen. Mr. Taylor is a longtime friend of Ms. Stockett's and was quite fortunate to get the directing rights. He doesn't disappoint. Sure the story is a bit glossy at times ... it is geared towards the masses. If you are looking for more depth, there are numerous documentaries available on the Civil Rights movement. If you are seeking a very entertaining movie that uses humor to tell a story and send a message, then this one's for you.

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