The Help (2011)
Directed by Tate Taylor
Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain
Based on the best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett, The Help is a powerful story about racial discrimination in the South during the 1960’s. Specifically targeting a few maids in Jackson, Mississippi, we are thrown into the lifestyle and appalling mistreatment of African American women by the upper class women. What really brings the story to life is the talented ensemble cast: Viola Davis, Jessica Chastain, Octavia Spencer, and Emma Stone.
The film revolves around Skeeter (Stone), a young journalist who takes a job at the Jackson Journal writing a cleaning column even though she knows nothing about the subject. But she’s ambitious and will go to any lengths to bring her idea to reality, to write a book in the perspective of the help. Her decision certainly turns a lot of heads and causes friction among her selective circle, but she understands she’s doing something very significant and throughout her interviews, she learns more than she ever had expected.
The two maids who agree to help Skeeter at first are Aibileen (Davis) and Minny (Spencer). Though they have volumes to discuss, including their personal lives, raising other people’s children and their stance on using a separate bathroom, the publisher informs Skeeter than she needs more. Because of the risky proposition Skeeter doesn’t get any more voices for her book, that is until a tragedy strikes the African American community.
The Help, at times, feel too much like a preaching melodrama, but mostly the story is solid with rich characters and real world conflicts. Driven by the great performances of Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, it’s impossible not to feel for their characters. With the entire film focused mainly on women, it’s a refreshing aspect that is rare in Hollywood.
Despite a few hiccups along the way, the 2+ hours of The Help breezes by. It definitely has its tear-jerking moments towards the end so have some tissues handy. Other than that, The Help expands on the message of the novel, giving it the air to breathe and the legs to run.