Review of “The Help”

5 Aug

Set in the 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi, The Help tells the story of middle class white women and the black women who work for them as domestics and maids. The story begins with “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone) returning to Jackson after graduating from the University of Mississippi.  Skeeter gets a job at a local newspaper and reestablishes relationships with her friends, some of whom have married and have children. She’s troubled by the disappearance of her family’s longtime maid, Constance (Cicely Tyson) and doesn’t accept her mom’s explanation that Constance up and moved to Chicago.

 Skeeter is also no longer comfortable with the social mores she grew up with.  She combines her strong desire to be a writer with a new found interest in the experiences and views of the housekeepers. She pitches an idea of book about those experiences to a New York publisher who agrees to read what she comes up with. But the maids are reluctant to speak to her. Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) whose son dies unnecessarily while employed at a construction site is the first to agree to talk. Minny played by Octavia Spencer, is next.  Minny worked for Missus Walters (Sissy Spacek). But when Walters moves in with her daughter, Hilly,  (Bryce Dallas Howard), both Walters and Minny come under Hilly’s control and that’s when the fights begin.

The Help is an entertaining and often amusing production. But it’s also important for its historical value. It displays the extraordinary – and often degrading – efforts blacks Americans had to make to survive.

Also reflected in this story are the complicated and contradictory relationships between the employer and employee.  For example, maids could kiss, hug and raise the white children and prepare the household’s meals but couldn’t use the family bathrooms. Anyone that I would not want using my toilet,  I also wouldn’t want cooking for me or touching my children.

While the maids do raise these kids, at some point the children usually adopted their parents’ views on race.

The acting is outstanding; not a weak link in the entire cast. Viola Davis as Aibileen turns in a performance nothing short of Oscar worthy.  A film cannot have truly great heroes without truly great villains – or at least one great villain.  Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly is phenomenally evil.  She too is Oscar worthy.

The cinematography is impressive.  However, the editing is poor and the film is too long.  It often moves aimlessly from scene to scene.

As to our cast diversity rating, it gets an “A”.  The movie by necessity has a very diverse cast.

The Help is rated PG and is 2 hours in length. And it gets a SEE IT rating.

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