January 27, 2012
"The Help" is about black women being employed as maids and nannies in Jackson, Mississippi back in the racially-tense early 1960s.
Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) is an independent tomboyish young lady who could not help but notice how badly her bridge buddies were treating their black maids. This terrible racist attitude was most exemplified by the pretty but contemptible Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), who was not even shy about her nasty behavior. Skeeter then secretly interviews maids Aibilene Clark (a serious Viola Davis) and Minny Jackson (a sassy Octavia Spencer), who bravely tell Skeeter their stories of oppression in white homes. How will the town react when Skeeter's book finally gets published?
The movie is another example of excellent ensemble acting. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer have the showiest roles. Spencer, in particular, figures in the most memorable scene about how her Milly character gets back at Hilly using a pie. Emma Stone is also quite good as the modern thinking Skeeter. Jessica Chastain sparkles as Celia Foote, a naive housewife from the poor side of town who was ostracized by Hilly and her friends. The more minor characters of Sissy Spacek (as Hilly's mom) and Allison Janney (as Skeeter's mom) also make their mark despite their shorter screen time. Cicely Tyson has a memorable moment in her brief and silent screen appearance as Skeeter's nanny.
The treatment of the serious story is light, with just the right amount of humor. It is a Disney production so we do not really expect this to be "Roots" or "A Color Purple." The subject matter in itself may not really appeal too much for all audiences especially in this part of the world, but the message of hope and redemption will make this movie universally meaningful.