Sunday, August 14, 2011

THE HELP needs no help...

The Help is adapted by Tate Taylor (who also directs) from the wildly popular best-selling novel of the same name by Kathryn Stockett.
The year is 1962 and race relations in Jackson, Miss. (and all of the deep South) are far from ideal. Segregation is the norm, rigidly adhered to by whites, including the Junior League ladies who employ black maids to keep their homes and children in line.
One member, Skeeter (Emma Stone) is appalled by the conduct of her old friends and, being an aspiring writer, decides to undertake the story of that life from the point of view of the maids. It takes extraordinary courage for the maids to come forward to talk to her in secret, even with the promise of anonymity. The first is Aibileen, beautifully portrayed by Viola Davis. Eventually, her best friend Minny (Octavia Spencer, who sparkles in this role) joins her. 
Octavia Spencer (left) and Viola Davis portray longtime friends.

This is a movie that gives a number of women perhaps the juiciest roles of their careers. But it’s not a “woman’s picture.” I talked to a number of men, including my husband, who loved it too.
Funny scenes such as the joke played on Hilly by Skeeter when she is pushed too hard to publish Hilly’s “Home Help Sanitation Initiative” in the League’s newsletter. The initiative is an attempt to require white families to install separate bathrooms for their “colored” help.
Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly (left) shows her true colors to Emma Stone (Skeeter).

In addition to powerful performances by those three women, and many others including Bryce Dallas Howard as the uber-racist Hilly, Sissy Spacek in a very funny turn as Hilly’s mother, Jessica Chastain as fish-out-of-water Celia Foote, Allison Janney as Skeeter’s mother, Cicely Tyson as Skeeter’s family’s former maid Constantine, Ahna O’Reilly as Elizabeth Leefolt, and the twins Eleanor and Emma Henry as Elizabeth’s adorable toddler, Mae Mobley, who bonds with Aibileen instead of her mother.
Each of these women has some complicated relationships, but the film keeps things straight so there’s little confusion as the many strands of the story play out.
The other star of the movie is the town of Jackson, in all its ‘60s splendor. While the white women’s homes are lovely for their time, they hide their distasteful secrets. The movie keeps us thinking and weighing all the time.
The longish film speeds by, and we reluctantly relinquish our visit with our new friends (primarily Skeeter and the maids). Many scenes, both sad and funny, linger in our memory – the mark of a good movie.
I loved the book, and the essence of it was captured here. As I revisit the book, I see that some things were truncated in the movie to the point you may not fully understand them, but the substance of the book is here.
It’s one of the best movies of 2011 and will surely be prominent come Oscar time.
Three and a half+ reels (out of four) for this lovely film.

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