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The Help

2011-10-07 15:07
 
What it’s about:

In 1960’s Jackson, Missisippi, Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) returns to her hometown after graduating from college. In a town where societal conventions rule, Skeeter starts a secret writing project with the help of two exceptional women who allow her a glimpse into their lives as black women who work for white families. The writing of the book is a heartfelt and cathartic enterprise which strengthens bonds and a cause which spurs the beginning of a new era in America’s history.

What we thought:

In The Help the history of segregation and racism in the American South is explored in a way that may seem both familiar and strikingly fresh. Although the film turns to situations that seem hackneyed and characters that come across as obviously archetypal, the sensitivity and warmth with which the stories of the women in this film is portrayed is remarkable and rousing.

In 1962’s Jackson Missisippi, white folks rely on "the help" to clean their homes, cook their dinner and raise their children. Despite the strict, invented lines that separate these communities there is a definite, underlying intimacy. Skeeter’s fascination and awareness of this fact drives her to form an unlikely alliance with two women who have worked as maids their entire lives, Abileen and Minnie, in order to write a book in which these women’s stories and struggles can be documented.

Loosely set against the backdrop of the dawn of the civil rights movement (there are whispers and references to Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers) The Help draws from that historic moment and imagines how the changing times played out in the homes and kitchens of places like Jackson.

Between scenes of domesticity where the social rules between black and white play out, Skeeter’s life as a privileged white woman is also considered. Her own experience as a white child raised by a black woman lies at the heart of her desire to explore the stories told to her by the maids, along with a true desire to shake up and defy the intolerance that surrounds her.

Before you think that The Help might be preachy or even depressing, be assured that the stories and characters that populate The Help are more often than not uproariously funny, but it does not subtract from the film’s earnest attempt to subtly highlight the more serious issues at hand.

Emma Stone as the boisterous and bookish Skeeter, an aspiring journalist, truly shines as she invests in the underlying density of the role and the challenges her character faces. Stone brings a wonderful sense of likability to the character as she explores the hidden stories of the women around her while maintaining a sense of innocent clumsiness and pride.

The movie boasts a cast of fabulous actresses who all give outstanding performances. Viola Davis captures every inch of the weary, caring and ultimately brave Aibileen. Octavia Spencer as the sassy Minnie is a joy to behold as she too finds complexity in a character that could so easily have turned to farce.

Evil comes in the form of Miss Hilly Holbrook, perfectly portrayed by Bryce Dallas Howard. A campaigner for even stricter segregations between black and white her overt racism and pettiness makes revenge against her so much sweeter.

Although The Help does sometimes teeter on the verge of oversimplifying or entrenching stereotypes, it is worth remembering that the towns and characters we encounter in the film existed as much as 50 years ago. And it is so much easier to forgive the movie’s faults when the overall effect is so heart-warming and the effort so admirable.


A heart-warming film that explores the stories of black women who spent their days cleaning homes and taking care of the children of white families under segregation in America's Deep South.

Patrick 2011/10/11 8:10 AM
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I saw the movie on saturday and really enjoyed it. Never knew that there was Apartheid in USA only 50 years ago
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