For my review of The Help I’m going to try something different. I’m going to go against my usual format and simply tell you to go see the movie. It’s one of the best movies of the summer year. We might just be looking at one of the first major award contenders of 2011. The Help is a wonderful film filled with amazing performances. The movie is extremely entertaining, tempering it’s heavy subject matter with hearty laughs. Bottom line, go see the movie as soon as you can. If you require further convincing, please read on.
The Help takes place in Civil Rights Era Jackson, Mississippi. The film focuses in on a specific subset of the African-American community, maids. These women not only cleaned houses and washed clothes, they raised white children. These women spent long hours away from their own children caring for the children of others. The movie does a great job of showing how familiarity can overcome ignorance while separation and ignorance reenforce prejudice. The film cleverly allows us to see these forces at work through several generations, foreshadowing the coming seismic shift in racial relations in the United States.
The movie’s story is refreshing and well told, but the way the actresses bring it to life is what's really a treat. The film is more or less told from the viewpoint of three women: Aibileen Clark & Minny Jackson, both African-American maids and Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, a young white woman who decides to use her position as a journalist to address the injustices experienced by women like Aibileen and Minny. Of course, we are dealing with 1960s Mississippi, so the women had to go about telling these stories in secret, with each maid being given a secret name and Skeeter publishing the book anonymously.
As mentioned above, the wonderful performances by all the actresses involved really make this movie special. Aibileen is played by Viola Davis. Ms. Davis puts in a moving performance as the first maid who decides to tell her stories to bring to light the serious injustices being suffered by these women. The lovely Emma Stone plays the fiery, independent Skeeter. I’ve always liked Ms. Stone and with The Help I feel she’s turning a corner, showing that she can more than hold her own as a "serious" actress.
What’s a good movie without a villain? The movie features several people who are despicable, but the ring leader is Ms. Hilly Holbrook. To put it bluntly, she’s a total bitch. Bryce Dallas Howard nails the part. If you saw Ms. Howard walking through the theater parking lot after finishing the movie, you’d have to resist the urge to rush to your car to try and run her over. She’s that good at being a bad person.
The character most people will fall in love with has to be Minny. She’s probably the strongest woman in the movie. Minny is played by Octavia Spencer, who many will probably recognize as the pet psychic in the funny Dinner for Schmucks. Ms. Spencer was great as the eccentric who could talk to animals from beyond the grave, but her performance as Minny is incredible. If Ms. Spencer isn’t at least considered a front runner for an Oscar nomination I will be very surprised. Shocked even. The movie is worth a ticket just to see her performance alone, but the ensemble of The Help provides audiences the best great acting to dollar ratio of any movie I’ve seen this year.
In summary, go see The Help. It’s incredible.
Rating: Excellent. Damn near perfect.
War Damn Octavia Spencer: As if I needed even more reason to appreciate the performance Ms. Spencer turned in as Minny, I found out before the movie opened that she is not only from my home state of Alabama, but she is an alumna of my alma mater, Auburn University. She too received an Auburn University Liberal Arts degree. Needless to say, she’s doing much better with her Liberal Arts degree than I am, but that’s beside the point...
*Note: Bama fans shouldn’t shy away from the movie just because she’s an Auburn graduate. She’s truly great in it.
No Small Parts, Only Small Actors: If a movie ever exemplified the importance of secondary casting it’d be The Help. How great is the acting in the movie? Greats such as Sissy Spacek and Cicely Tyson are in the movie in small, yet vastly important roles. These two women help make a special film even more special.
Look out world: Octavia Spencer is likely to become a household name after this movie. Another name to look out for is Jessica Chastain. She is great as the naive, but infinitely charming Celia Foote.