The Help (2011) (PG-13)

There seem to be several subjects that can be made into books and movies again and again—simply because of the material they cover. The Holocaust and WWII are such topics, civil rights is another. Tensions between white and black people has long been a subject that novelists and film makers have enjoyed covering. The Help is one such novel. Kathryn Stockett made a story about a few women in Mississippi who decided to try to make a change in their community. Once penned, the novel saw huge success and week and week on the bestseller list. It was inevitable that it would be made into a movie...which it was.
"The Help" was adapted from the book by a childhood friend of Stockett, Tate Taylor. His touch is perhaps not the most professional, but altogether effective.
There are three main characters in "The Help"—"Skeeter" Phelan, a young white girl who is an aspiring writer; Aibileen Clark, an older black maid who is incredibly crafty and smart; and Minny Jackson, a smart-mouthed maid who gets in trouble because of her sass.
Each of these women presents a different side to the story in "The Help". The movie is narrated by Aibileen (a perfect role for the incredibly talented Viola David) so her perspective is the most important. The way the book handled the three characters was a shifting narration. Skeeter would narrate for a while and then Aibileen would take over and the Minny would—but even in the book, Aibileen was the central character.
Skeeter's writing talents get her a job as a newspaper columnist, writing a home improvement-ish column. This brings her in contact with Aibileen and she starts to empathize with the black maids known as 'the help'. She begins to conceive an idea for a book—tell stories from the point of view of 'the help'.
It's Mississippi and it's the 1960s, so you can imagine how well the black community is treated. The abuse is much more subdued for "The Help" and it even was for the book. The book and movie aren't about evoking some change in politics are recalling the heroic acts of one person in protest—it's about a community, three women, and the risk they took.
"The Help" is much less graphic than it could be—that's not to say it's not poignant, because it is.
There are only a few movies that celebrate females roles more than "The Help" does. Only two or three males characters appear in the entire film, and they are not crucial to the plot.
Needless to say, without many special effects or large chase sequences—"The Help" has to be a movie that succeeds in its story and its actors. The cast is sensationally good—Emma Stone, Viola Davis, and Octavia Spencer round out the three main characters and they are supported by an evil Bryce Dallas Howard, a southern Allison Janney, and the magnificent Jessica Chastain.
The Help is a rich book, it has so many levels and is one of the better books that I've read. Not surprisingly, the movie is not as good as its paper equivalent. There are some flashback scenes that don't work and it does get a little preachy after a while—sometimes the drama is too dramatic for its own good. Yet for its slight imperfections, I can't help but think that this movie is one that will stick around for awhile. It has a classiness to the way that it's composed and a simpleness that will leave it in the history of cinema for a little bit at least.
Viola Davis and Jessica Chastain are the best parts of the movie, they deliver their sometimes awkwardly worded lines with poise and accuracy. Octavia Spencer (in an Oscar winning role) is a delight as Minny. Her sass is what gives the movies its humor and its heart.
"The Help" may not be a masterpiece, but it is emotional, touching, and enjoyable.

Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

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