The Help belongs among the Oscar-considered films that normally arrive in the fall. The fact that the film is in theaters now during the heat of summer? Consider it a gift from Walt Disney Studios.
The Help is based on the beloved novel by Kathryn Stockett. And while Hollywood’s history of turning the page-to-screen experience into something blissful is spotty at best, director Tate Taylor’s film is sure to meet The Help’s passionate literary legion's expectations - and exceed them.
Emma Stone is Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan. The child of the late 1950s has become an adult in the 1960s. Growing up in Jackson, Mississippi, she has seen her share of racial injustice. The story at the heart of The Help concerns Skeeter’s capturing the life story of the maids who literally raise the children of Jackson and the picture painted is painful, powerful and penetrating in its depiction of the time’s racial divide.
The main characters are two maids played by Octavia Spencer (as Minny( and Viola Davis (as Aibileen). Both actresses rivet in their portrayals in different ways. The two are clearly close friends, bonded by neighborhood and necessity. But their friendship runs deep and only deepens as the two recount their lives for Skeeter. The real heroes of The Help are Minny and Aibileen. It is their story, along with the almost line-less cast of maids who may or may not come together to ensure Stone’s character has fully captured the essence of what it is like to be a repressed soul living in the civil rights hot spot of Jackson, Mississippi.
Emma Stone is a revelation as Skeeter, continuing her impressive full-on attack of Hollywood that began with her turn in Zombieland and has continued through Superbad, Easy A and Crazy, Stupid, Love.
The rest of The Help cast seems to know that they have a duty to deliver because of the quality of the material, but also its potential for achieving societal zeitgeist. Oscar winner Sissy Spacek sizzles as the mother of a downright devilish Bryce Dallas Howard. Howard triumphs in tackling a role that is unlike anything she has ever done before. Jessica Chastain is also one to watch, as Celia Foote. Her characterization captures the outsider omnipresence of the times that can send even the strongest into despair. She might as well be The Help in terms of how the Jackson social elite treat her.
The Help’s story does follow a stereotypical storytelling methodology of having the white person serve as the hero who inspires the African Americans to stand up for their rights. One can’t fault the film as the book is written as such, but in a bigger picture view of things, The Help movie has the benefit of educating a wide audience that equal rights has not always applied to all, as the Constitution states.
When Stone’s Skeeter visits Aibileen and begins the process of writing the novel they hope will alter their own community's way of treating one another, the film gets its legs.
The Help is easily the summer’s most astounding movie. It will unequivocally be included in Movie Fanatic's Top 10 of 2011. Some have questioned its landing in the summer blockbuster season and how it may get lost amongst the hits of the warmer months. We are of the belief that, no matter the situation, talent rises.
The Help will find its audience, and each soul that takes in the fantastic film’s foray into America’s racial divide of the 1960s can count on leaving the cinema changed in the most beautiful of ways.