Based on one of the most talked about books in years and a #1 New York Times best-selling phenomenon, "The Help" stars Emma Stone ("Easy A") as Skeeter, Academy Award-nominated Viola Davis ("Doubt") as Aibileen and Octavia Spencer as Minny-three very different, extraordinary women in Mississippi during the 1960s, who build an unlikely friendship around a secret writing project that breaks societal rules and puts them all at risk. From their improbable alliance a remarkable sisterhood emerges, instilling all of them with the courage to transcend the lines that define them, and the realization that sometimes those lines are made to be crossed-even if it means bringing everyone in town face-to-face with the changing times.
Soundtrack: The Help (Music from the Motion Picture) - Soundtrack
Novel: The Help
Digital version: The Help - Kathryn Stockett
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Adapted from the bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett The Help is set during the 1960s, in Jackson, Mississippi. A story about race, respect, and taking a chance in order to make a difference, Director and Screenwriter Tate Taylor's film is something of grandeur. Focusing on three women in particular, The Help offers insight into what it was like as a Black maid during this era in Mississippi, as well as being a White unmarried female with career aspirations that exceed finding a husband and having babies and of even greater importance the torn feelings over the racial conflicts in her own city. The two Black maids are Aibileen (Viola Davis), the real soul of the film and an incredibly conflicted woman, and Minny (Octavia Spencer), a maid who does not always "know her place" and is a bit mischievous as well but her character is not at all the tough skinned woman she appears to be and as the layers peel away over the course of the film Minny can be seen as simply amazing. The character that brings these two women even more so together, as they are already close friends, is Skeeter (Emma Stone). Raised by a Black nanny whom she loved and respected Skeeter is unlike the other women she grew up with in town. Her beliefs are liberal, and equal rights and respect for all races seems the natural course of things to her; she realizes the problems in her town and seeks to change the long-standing ways. This change will come along in the form of a book, aptly titled "The Help", that Skeeter convinces Minny and Aibileen to help her write by telling her the truth about what happens when you are a Black maid in a White household. Their stories, and in time other maids in the local community as well, bring to light all that has been hidden resulting in a collision of racial politics in Jackson. Better still, the taking down of the worst one, HIlly (Bryce Dallas Howard).
Watching The Help is altogether delightful, but also incredibly disturbing. The greatness comes in the humor between these women. They share things with one another, when no one is watching, that is hilarious. A true friendship exists between Minny and Aibilene and the sweetness of it is infectious. The side-story of Minny and her new employer, Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain), will have you laughing out-loud. Celia is the odd-woman out in town, having recently moved there to wed one of the local boys who was previously involved with the town devil-of-a-woman Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard). Her loose ways, and as Minny puts it plainly "white trash" background do nothing to help the situation of being ostracized by the women of Jackson. Minny and Celia forge a great friendship over the course of the film that came across as the most honest, without limitation connection in the entire picture. After seeing so much racism and disrespect it was amazing to witness a Black woman and a White woman forge a bond and become dependent on the others friendship. It is moments like this, between characters, that makes The Help unmissable.
Each and every part of The Help resonates with you, whether you are laughing or crying. This movie is full of greatness, and will touch the very soul of you.
And the Oscar goes to...any of the women in the cast of The Help. From Emma Stone's Skeeter to Viola Davis' Aibileen, or Bryce Dallas Howard's detestable Hilly there is no wrong choice to set your praise upon. Even Sissy Spacek as Hilly's mother and Allison Janney as Skeeter's mother Charlotte are incredible in their small but important roles. The favorite, as it may come to be, is Octavia Spencer's Minny. Her full of sass and fire character leaps off of the screen in every scene she is in. She takes over The Help from everyone else at every turn and delivers a performance of a woman battling abuse, the hardships of providing for her family, as well as her hatred for the ways in which Black women are treated. Spencer is a marvel in the role, commanding you to watch her every action, study each word she says, and laugh at her quick wit delivered with impeccable timing.
It is every woman of The Help that makes the movie work on every level. As an ensemble film it is not just Minny, Aibileen, and Skeeter that grab your attention. The smaller roles are just as important for the ways they influence the three women's stories. Howard's Hilly is the main antagonist of the film, and to be frank she would make an excellent cult leader. She has the entire town of women (except Skeeter and a few others of course) brainwashed in her beliefs that every household should have an outside bathroom for the Black help, by State law, and that Black's carry disease that can infect them--to name just a couple of her disgusting tirades. Howard commits to the role of this woman you hate from the onslaught but she also manages to have Hilly appear to not know she is doing anything wrong. Her sweet demeanor can turn to one of evil intensity in a flash, and then back to the gentile southern woman she wants to be portrayed as to everyone. Howard had her work cut out for her in Hilly and as much as you hate her with every part of your being you have to love the portrayal of her by Howard.
The Help is obviously a film about women. The entire cast is full of them, and the men merely pop-up in brief moments; occasionally saying something of importance and sometimes just to exist. See The Help not only because it is a remarkable film but also because it has given these fine actresses the chance to sink themselves into well developed and emotionally challenging roles--something incredibly rare in film, from before the 1960s and continuing today.
August 10, 2011