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Movie Review: The Help

August 10, 2011

The Help – A Touchstone Pictures’ Release

Release Date: August 10th, 2011

Rated PG for mature theme, language may offend

Running time: 146 minutes

Tate Taylor (dir.)

Tate Taylor (screenplay)

Based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett

Thomas Newman (music)

Emma Stone as Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan

Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark

Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly Holbrook

Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson

Jessica Chastain as Celia Foote

Ahna O’Reilly as Elizabeth Leefolt

Allison Janney as Charlotte Phelan

Anna Camp as Jolene French

Cicely Tyson as Constantine Jefferson

Mike Vogel as Johnny Foote

Sissy Spacek as Missus Walters

Mary Steenburgen as Elain Stein

©Touchstone Pictures.  All Rights Reserved.

Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan (Emma Stone) in The Help.

Our reviews below:


The Help Review By John C.

**** (out of 4)

Based on the bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett that has sold millions of copies and been an important discussion topic for pretty much everyone who picked up a copy, The Help has a lot of pressure on it to succeed.  Thankfully, director Tate Taylor has done so much good by the source material with this incredibly moving adaptation, crafting a film that is pitch-perfect in nearly every way as each scene beautifully comes to life.  From the powerhouse of performances to the unforgettable characters, on every level this is the sort of movie that deserves multiple Oscar nominations come awards time.

The year is 1962 and the town is Jackson, Mississippi.  The world is teetering on the edge of a breakthrough in the civil rights movement.  But every household, including that of the cruel Hilly Holbrooke (Bryce Dallas Howard), is still expected to have a black maid saddled with the duties of cooking, cleaning and raising the kids.   The white society women meet for bridge once a week, many of them showing little respect for the women who are paid to run their lives.  A different kind of prejudice is also glimpsed in some of the most painfully effecting scenes, as the well-intentioned but small town Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain) is shunned by the other women, merely because they see her as “white trash.”

After a ridiculous proposed bill to further segregation by forcing every white home to have an outside washroom for the maids, a young writer nicknamed Skeeter (Emma Stone) starts doing a series of interviews to expose what really goes on behind every closed door.  Skeeter’s first subjects are Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) and the outspoken Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), as they work in secret to anonymously publish the controversial book.  The film delivers its powerful messages of social change during the civil rights movement without ever feeling heavy-handed, and some of the most moving scenes coming from the quiet moments between sometimes painfully believable characters.

All of the actresses here deserve equal praise as they turn in some of the best performances I’ve seen all year.  But If I could pick just two of them for serious Oscar consideration, it would be Viola Davis and Jessica Chastain.  Davis gives a performance on-par with her unforgettable work in Doubt, with small nuances in facial expressions leading to some of the most heartbreakingly powerful scenes.  After her beautiful and luminous work in The Tree of Life, Chastain once again proves that she deserves to be a star.  Her performance here is sincere and unforgettable without ever sidestepping into cliché.

From the opening scene right through to Mary J. Blige’s deeply effecting song “The Living Proof” over the end credits, The Help deserves numerous recognition come awards time.  In a summer movie season loaded with big blockbusters and mostly needless 3D, the film also works as a big studio picture that manages to elevate the late summer season to a more mature level.  Carried beautifully every step of the way by the sublime performances and telling a powerful story that is undeniably humbling and even inspirational, The Help is one of the best and most moving films of the year.


The Help Review by Erin V.  

**** (out of 4)

Based on the best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett, The Help tells the story of Aibileen (Viola Davis), a maid in the 1960’s working in Jackson, Mississippi.  When a local young writer named Skeeter (Emma Stone) decides to write a book from the point of view of the help, Aibileen starts to share her stories to Skeeter, although it must be done in secret, as that kind of thing is against the law to be written.  Another maid named Minnie (Octavia Spencer) also agrees to share her story after she is fired from her job working for another young woman named Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas-Howard), who is trying to introduce a ridiculous law that prohibits ‘the help’ from using the washrooms in the houses they work in.  We also get the story of Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain), who although being white, is also shunned by Hilly and her cliques in town.

The Help is an emotionally powerful film with great performances, in particular from Davis, Spencer, Stone, and Chastain.  This human story is told in a believable way, without ever feeling like it descends into melodrama.  The characters are all well-rounded and connect with each other well.  This will be one to watch come awards season.  I look forward to seeing it again.


The Help Review by Nicole

**** (out of 4)

Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Kathryn Stockett, The Help depicts the racism and prejudice against the black housekeepers in 1960’s Mississippi.  It’s 1962, and things haven’t changed much.  In most households, parents of white kids take it easy, while the black maids raise the white children and clean the house, often for very little pay.  Many people had the incredulous and bizarre idea that black people carry disease.  When Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) a popular member of the local ladies’ club proposes a law to have separate outdoor washroom be built for the maids, a young writer, Skeeter (Emma Stone) is mortified.  Skeeter, along with maids Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer) band together to write an anonymous book documenting life as a black maid.

The Help provides a fascinating and often shocking look at racism, and the beginning of the civil rights movement.  Everything about this film makes it a definite Oscar contender.  The acting is amazing, the story is moving and gripping, and the music fits the mood perfectly.  Whether you have read the book or not, The Help is an excellent film that is a must see.


The Help Review by Maureen

**** (out of 4)

The novel “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett is one of my favorite reads of 2011.  The movie adaptation of The Help is just as I hoped it would be – heartwarming, heartbreaking, funny, sad – perfect in every way.

Set in 1962, Jackson, Mississippi, The Help tells the stories of black maids, the help, working for white society women.  The stories are told mainly through two of the maids, Aibileen (Viola Davis) who narrates the movie and Minny (Octavia Spencer).  The two women tell their stories with the help of a white socialite, Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone) who returns to Jackson from college with ambitions to be a writer.  Skeeter is appalled by the idea that her married friends, Elizabeth Leefolt (Ahna O’Reilly) and Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) won’t allow their back maids to use the toilets inside their whites only homes.  This inspires Skeeter to suggest to Aibileen and Minnie that they work together to put their life stories on paper.  Through a series of secret meetings, the women take the risky step of the two races working together during the height of the racially charged civil rights movement.

The Help is such a wonderful character-driven story.  Spending time with Aibileen as she works in Miss Elizabeth’s household, including caring for little Mae Mobley (Aibileen’s 17th white child in her long career) is an eye-opener and a privilege.  Maid Minny is another story.  Her days working for the arrogant Miss Hilly and her slightly senile mother, Miss Walter (Sissy Spacek) are shockingly funny.  When Miss Hilly fires Minny, she ends up working for a pretty married woman, Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain) whom the other white women consider “white trash.”  The working relationship between Minny and Miss Celia is funny and sweet.  Of all the white women in the story, Celia is the most developed and my favorite.

There are many happy moments in each of the character’s lives but many more sad and difficult ones.  I loved how the characters were developed and allowed us to get to know them and care for them.  Along with the brilliant screenplay it is thanks to the outstanding performances of each of the actors.  Viola Davis gives a particularly inspired performance that should be recognized comes awards season.  Octavia Spencer is a close second with Jessica Chastain, third.  There isn’t a weak performance in the entire cast, right down to the adorable little girl(s) who play Mae Mobley.

I laughed and I cried watching The Help.  The time spent getting to know these characters was inspiring and filled with hope.  This is a believable and inspiring look at a difficult period in American history.  The Help is a must-see movie and deserving of any awards it should achieve.


The Help Review by Tony

**** (out of 4)

The Help, based on the Kathryn Stockett novel, follows a number of women in Jackson MS in the early 1960s, just before the segregation laws were repealed. Returning from “Old Miss” without the usual Mrs. degree, Skeeter (Emma Stone) takes a job with the local newspaper while researching a book for her New York publisher (Mary Steenburgen). Her clique of old friends include the haughty bigot Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) and weak sycophant Elizabeth (Ahna O’Reilly). Always in the background doing the heavy lifting are “the help.” Aibileen (Viola Davis) cooks, cleans and raises Elizabeth’s little girl. As a valued cook, Minny (Octavia Spencer) came with Hilly’s aging mother (Sissy Spacek) to live with Hilly and her husband, but Hilly throws her out for using the inside bathroom. Blacklisted from working in town, Minny is welcomed by Celia (Jessica Chastain), whom the clique shuns as white trash after marrying up into a big house on the outskirts.

With a weak mother (Allison Janney) of her own and in memory of her real caregiver Constantine (Cicely Tyson), Skeeter is inspired to base her book on the stories and feelings of the help, starting with Aibileen, followed by Minny and others. Clearly in violation of current laws, the book is published anonymously, though with enough detail for the folks in Jackson to recognize themselves.

The Help is a triumph in every way. Those who have read it assure me that the screenplay is faithful to the book, bringing out all the emotions it elicits with a brilliant cast, beautifully filmed. Though men are very much in the background, The Help will appeal to people of both genders and all ages, its southern gentility keeping vulgarity to a minimum, and making it all the more amusing when it pops up. The running length of 146 minutes never seemed too long–indeed the richness of the content and southern dialogue will reward subsequent viewings with details missed the first time.


Consensus: With unforgettable characters and brilliant performances from the entire ensemble cast, director Tate Taylor’s pitch-perfect adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling novel The Help is an incredibly moving and beautifully realized film that deserves serious awards recognition.   **** (Out of 4)

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