Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Genre: Drama, Book Adaptation
Opens locally Wednesday, August 10th, 2011
Run Time: 2 hours 26 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Viola Davis, Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek
Based on a novel by Kathryn Stockett
Written & Directed by Tate Taylor (Pretty Ugly People)
It's no secret that Oprah runs the universe, and "The Help" is the latest example of her powerful influence. When the novel "The Help" was recommended by Oprah to her book club, it was almost immediately greenlit to be turned into a motion picture. The book by first-time author Kathryn Stockett was a best seller with over 5 million copies sold, and now the film version of "The Help" is here. So what's all the fuss about?
The film follows the plot of the book closely, and is set in the 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi. Hard to believe that such incredible racism existed just 50 years ago, but what is revealed in "The Help" is a world that closely resembles the "Gone With the Wind" era of slavery and oppression. The story is told from the eyes of a select group of African-American maids. They are employed by "free will," but for all intents and purposes, these women have no other choices. The wealthy white Southern families who employ them treat them less than equal, going so far as to have separate toilets and areas for their black help. These African-American nannies quite literally raise their employer's white children for them, and then are often discarded. It was a scary time period, and the movie paints a vivid picture of this incredulous time.
In a movie like this, it is important to point out the character's color. Emma Stone plays Skeeter, a young white author, who herself was raised by a black nanny. She plans on writing a book to earn a publishing job, and her plan is to tell the tale of the black "help" from their perspective. Speaking up may mean losing work or much worse, but couragous maid Aibileen (Viola Davis) and her friend Minny (Octavia Spencer) befriend Skeeter and begin to share their stories. In a deliciously villainous role, Bryce Dallas Howard plays the despicable Hilly Holbrook, a wealthy white mother and town activist, determined to keep the status quo of white supremacy intact.
So who would guess, given such a deep premise, that "The Help" would be one of the funniest films of the year, in addition to being one of the year's best. From performances, to costumes, to tone, everything works in "The Help" to create a incredibly touching and emotional film. Brutal and serious at times, the vast ensemble of mostly female characters carry with them such personality, that you'll remember all of the character's by name far after watching.
As most good movies are, the story is held together like glue by the amazing core of actors at it's center. The film is peppered with juicy smaller roles, like Sissy Spacek's Missus Walters or Skeeter's cancer-stricken mother played by Allison Janney. But praise and spotlight has to go to the amazing Viola Davis. She gives a powerful performance, the likes of which Oscar nominations are made for. Bryce Dallas Howard may be the year's biggest villain in her role, but it is equally award-worthy. Throw in the hilarious Octavia Spencer as Minnie, and this could be one of the best ensemble casts of 2011.
At the end of the day, "The Help" is an important film as well as a good one. It is tragic, moving, and inspirational. As a 30-something-er, I knew about civil rights and racism, but never expected that such blatant racism still was accepted and practiced as openly as it is shown here, as recent as the 60s. But "The Help" is far from a history lesson, and more of a story about humanity, friendship, and family. What doesn't kill us only makes us stronger, and for these incredibly strong women, their true-to-life story is an affirmation that strength is color-blind, and that compassion breeds courage.
"The Help" shouldn't need any to be thought of amongst this year's best films.
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