Review by Rachel Hansen (B)
A film set around civil rights and overcoming prejudice can be a tricky thing; you want to get your point across without preaching; keep the tone from being too heavy while not making light of the issues; and portray the characters without resorting to caricatures. The Help does a very good job with this balancing act.
Set in 1960's Jackson, Mississippi, the film centers on Eugenia 'Skeeter' Phelan (Emma Stone) and her long-time friend's maid Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) and the unlikely relationship that forms when they decide to write a book that details what life is truly like for "the help" living in the South.
A solid adaptation of the brilliant novel by Kathryn Stockett, writer/director Tate Taylor follows through on one of the book's strong suites by crafting a well-rounded cast of characters. Even the hateful, ignorant, manipulative, spiteful Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) is given some sense of warmth in the moments with her children and in her desire to see Skeeter happy, even if her definition of happy requires a husband. Sissy Spacek, Allison Janney, Jessica Chastain and Leslie Jordan lend the film additional star power with strong supporting roles.
Stone's portrayal of Skeeter as an intelligent, outspoken young woman who is becoming aware of the injustices in her community plays well against those of her fellow Junior League members, who are willing to do just about anything to maintain the status quo and avoid the wrath of Hilly. And despite repeated references to Skeeter being unattractive, I'm sorry - there's just no way you can make Emma Stone look anything but beautiful. Not gonna happen.
Octavia Spencer is fantastic as Minny Jackson, a maid known city-wide for her amazing cooking and inability to keep her sarcastic comments to herself. Minny is responsible for the majority of the film's comic relief, and serves as a perfect counter to Aibileen's calm, motherly presence. The "terrible awful" trick she plays on Hilly displays a level of creativity and sass most of us only wish we had the balls to execute. Although, it would make me think twice about digging into one of Minny's famous chocolate pies...
My main criticism is the pacing of the film. Within minutes of the opening, we meet all the main characters and are given a major source of conflict, followed quickly by Skeeter's decision to write her book. With so much happening in such quick succession, it gives the film a very hurried feel and only settles down into a more relaxed pace during the final third.
Overall, The Help is a good film with some strong performances and genuinely funny lines. However, you really should read the book as well to get a better feel of the story this could have been.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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