The year is 1962. The place: a small Mississippi town. A time and place where racism is more a fact of life than a dirty secret. But when an idealistic young woman decides to document the so called accepted treatment of African American domestic servants by their Caucasian employers all hell breaks loose!
Skeeter (Emma Stone), fresh from college, lands a job at the town newspaper. To some, the job of writing an advice column for the domestically challenged might not seem like much but for Skeeter it’s a start to her dream career as a journalist or novelist. She asks her best friend if her maid Aibileen (Viola Davis) can help her, as she herself doesn’t have a clue about the domestic arts of cooking and cleaning. Her friend Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) reluctantly agrees. But Skeeter has bigger ambitions and secretly asks Aibileen if she will help her write a book about what it’s really like to raise another woman’s children. More precisely, what it’s like to be ‘her’. And trust me, it’s a hard, very sad life to be ‘her’.
To speak of such things, much less write them is downright illegal at that time and place. Aibileen reluctantly agrees to help but both know what they are doing is fraught with danger and peril. But Skeeter needs more than one woman’s story. She needs many. No one else will help but chunky, spunky Minny (Octavia Spencer) until an act of violence brings all of “The Help” out of the shadows and into Aibileen’s home, ready to spill the beans.
There are men in “The Help” but their contributions are small and sparing in this tremendous vehicle for actresses. Quite simply this is the best movie I have ever seen with a predominately female cast. It is heartbreaking and hysterically funny. Some scenes will outrage you, while others will fill you with the warmth of self satisfaction.
“The Help” is an amazing product of a thoughtful, well written script, flawless art direction and some of the finest acting to ever grace the screen. When all was said and done, I felt that I had seen the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress performances of the year—times 5! Yes, this whole cast is that good!
Home girl Emma Stone, continues to blossom and make us proud! She is a true steel magnolia, alternately neerdy, shy and a fearless warrior for change. Allison Janney is pitch perfect as her mother. Veteran Cicely Tyson is heartbreaking as the aging family retainer. While another veteran, Sissy Spacek, is an absolute riot as a smart as a whip aging matriarch. Jessica Chastain, fresh from the maudlin and confused “Tree of Life”, seems to be channeling Marilyn Monroe as the ditzy but sweeter than sugar, town tramp Celia Foote. Bryce Dallas Howard as mean spirited but picture perfect Hilly Holbrook hits a home run as the woman you will love to hate. Bryce has always mesmerized on screen but this is the first time she has had the opportunity to get a role equal to her impressive talent. Dad must be bursting with pride!
But at the end of the day, so much credit has to go to Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. There simply aren’t words to convey the depth and brilliant colors of their performances. If emotions were colors, these master thespians blazed through Crayola’s 64 count box and then some!
Kudos also go to Director and Screenwriter Tate Taylor. The movie is long at 2 hours and 20 minutes but impeccable direction, deft storytelling and measured pace keep one leaning forward. And while I haven’t read the best seller by Kathyrn Stockett, I am told the movie is very faithful and will not disappoint fans, of which there are many! I already asked April Warneke if I can borrow her copy when she’s done!
While the heavy female cast might make this appear to be a chick flick, it is much bigger than that much maligned genre. Seeing the civil rights movement from a personal perspective, even an imagined one, rings with truth and shines with wit. I for one am glad I didn’t have to live through that shameful time. But I am so grateful to all the courageous women and men who did and made our country so much better for all of us.
“The Help” polishes up 5 Red Vines for sheer perfection
A preview of this movie was provided to me by the studio but it in no way affects my unbiased review.