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Movie Review: "The Help"

Dorothy Rowley | , WI Staff Writer | 8/13/2011, 12:44 p.m.
It's been a long time since a movie as emotionally-charged as The Help...
Viola Davis (left) and Octavia Spencer are best friends, Aibileen and Minny, in "The Help."/Courtesy Photo

It's been a long time since a movie as emotionally-charged as The Help has hit the big screen, forcing its way into the social consciousness of America.

For one thing, the two-hour and 18-minute fictional film that's skillfully directed by Tate Taylor, boasts a well-selected cast - several whose performances are laced with Oscar nominations. Particularly the roles played by Viola Davis (Aibileen Clark), Octavia Spencer (scene-stealing Minny Jackson) - who tells her daughter, "You cooking white food? You taste it with a different spoon," and the film's central character, Emma Stone (Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan).

Occuring in the Jim Crow South of the 1960s, the movie is set against a lush backdrop of dirt roads, dilapidated wood frame houses, plantations, and tree-lined upper class neighborhoods. It is an excellent adaptation of the best seller by the same title written by debut novelist Kathryn Stockett, and from beginning to end, the movie keeps close to her exceptionally descriptive storytelling (even though some pertinent incidents and details emphasized in the book are omitted).

Along the way, the movie unfolds the friendships and eventual union of rebellion among a contingent of black maids -- all born and raised in Jackson, Miss. While some of the maids are actually loved by the white families they serve, most are taken for granted and exploited.

However, in joining forces with an aspiring white journalist (Skeeter) fresh out of college during the Civil Rights Movement, they go against the grain of Southern laws giving her a series of probing interviews of what it's like working for white folks. In the process, the maids begin to become their own heroines.

The movie is chocked full of history, including the mobilizations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the brutal murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers. It also lends focus to the death of President John F. Kennedy and the sadness embraced by blacks and whites alike over his assassination.

But the three-way bond of trust that evolves among the fair-minded, frizzy-haired Skeeter (by the way, Cicely Tyson plays the role of Skeeter's maid and nanny), kind and self-efficient Aibileen and can-cook-her-butt-off Minny, turns out to be a sisterhood that's truly endearing. The film is also funny at the right times, making it a warm-hearted, pleasant surprise.