The Help–Movie Review

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3.5 Stars

The Help is a reasonably entertaining movie. It is sometimes poignant, mostly funny and ultimately upbeat. Unfortunately it is not on the same level as the novel by Kathryn Stockett that it is based on.

This is a fairly predictable story about virtuous black maids in Jackson Mississippi in the early 1960s and the crazy white ladies they worked for. Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) is wise and stoic, but caries painful memories. Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) is a phenomenal cook whose hot temper often gets her into trouble.

As for the crazy white ladies, Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) is devious and mean, while her mother (Sissy Spacek) is one of those somewhat senile characters who is smarter than she looks. Elizabeth Leefolt (Ahna O’Reilly) is a desperate social climber who is easily manipulated by Hilly. None of them will give the time of day to Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain), a white-trash girl who has married into a wealthy family. She’s pretty ditzy but of course she has a heart of gold.

The story centers around Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone), the daughter of a prosperous plantation owner who comes home from college to find that the maid who raised her has mysteriously vanished. This eventually inspires her to embark on a quixotic project to interview a number of maids and publish their experiences in a book.

The movie was written and directed by Tate Taylor, a close friend of Kathryn Stockett, the author of the original book. He had little prior experience in filmmaking and I think it shows. The dialog in the book is brilliant but in the movie it often seems clunky. The top lines from the book are all there but they tend to be thrown in without the development that prepared the way for them, so they don’t work as well. On the other hand some scenes have brief elements that could easily have been omitted and seem disconcertingly anachronistic or implausible.

Still this is a better-than-average movie and it looks particularly good when compared to the current crop of summer brain candy.