Set in Jackson, Mississippi, during the 1960s when civil rights issues were beginning to erupt into major violence, this adaptation of Kathryn Stockett best-selling novel centers on three women: Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone), a young, white aspiring journalist from a well-to-do family who, disgusted with they way she sees how blacks are treated by her “friends” and family, secretly decides to write a book that looks at Southern life from the viewpoint of the black maids in the community; Abileen Clark (Viola Davis) and Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), two maids who supply the nucleus of the book.
There is so much to like in The Help.
Written and directed by Tate Taylor, it boasts a compelling, often disturbing, yet sometimes humorous, story of a shameful chapter in America’s past, told from a unique viewpoint, and it also features several performances that are ripe for Academy Award consideration.
Certainly Viola Davis’ central role of the maid who has raised the children of white women, only to see them grow up like their bigoted mothers, is a shoo-in for a nomination. Octavia Spencer, as the maid who gets her revenge on her former employer (Bryce Dallas Howard) with a chocolate pie, also deserves consideration, as does Ms. Howard, the story’s primary “villainess,” Jessica Chastain, playing the good-hearted “white trash” wife of a local wealthy man, Emma Stone, as the brave young novelist who goes against her “people” to write her scandalous book, plus Allison Janney and Sissy Spacek as the mothers of Stone and Howard.
All of these ladies are unforgettable in their respective roles.
Although I enjoyed the movie very much and will probably watch it again soon, I feel that the “parts” of The Help are better than the “whole”.
I have not read Kathryn Stockett’s novel, but according to my wife who loved it, the movie follows the original work quite closely. And that, as I see it, is the problem with the film.
Movies are not novels. They have a different structure and are a different animal altogether.
As engrossing as it might be, there are so many characters and so many “incidents” in The Help that, unless you’ve read the book, you are apt to get lost in the film’s first half-hour or so, wondering “who is who” and “what is what”. Thankfully, my wife was sitting next to me when we watched this and I could ask her.
Stockett’s book might have been better served as a two or three part television mini-series that would have allowed writer-director Tate Taylor to flesh out his characters a bit more, because as it now stands, the movie lacks focus. I could never really figure out whose story this is, Skeeter’s, Aibleen’s or Minny’s.
I’m also told that the darker, more violent aspects of the civil rights movement were more pronounced in the novel than they are in this screen version, in which they are more episodic and isolated.
I recall a film, The Long Walk Home (1990) with Sissy Spacek and Whoopi Goldberg, set in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955 that also dealt with civil rights in a similar manner. However, that picture centered on a single black maid and her sympathetic employer, which gave it the focus that The Help lacks.
Nevertheless, overall The Help is a very good film and well worth seeing.
The anamorphic widescreen picture is sharp and has no problems.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound is clear.
Deleted Scenes is a brief collection of only two cut scenes from the movie, introduced by the director Tate Taylor.
"The Living Proof" is a music video by Mary J. Blige.
The Help is an entertaining, often touching drama, filled with superb performances, that perhaps followed the book a bit too closely.