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The Help

Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone | PG-13 |


I have friends who refuse to see The Help (or read Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 bestseller of the same name). That’s a shame, because for a film born of suffering and steeped in controversy, it’s highly entertaining. Some background: The story follows black maids in 1960s Mississippi who pen an anonymous tell-all about their employers, spurred by an aspiring white writer (Stone), herself a friend of the maids’ bosses. What galls many of us black folks is that Stockett is also white, writing in the voices of black women.

But to miss The Help is to miss the point. That anyone wants to revisit the history of African-Americans in a respectful way is a good thing-particularly when the characters are this engaging. Davis is award-worthy as Aibileen, a maid brave beyond reason as she risks the ire of Bryce Dallas Howard’s racist queen bee Hilly. In fact the film bursts with powerful performances, including Sissy Spacek as Hilly’s wily mother, Octavia Spencer as brash maid Minny and the stunningly versatile Jessica Chastain as the town’s naive vamp. The direction is less sure-footed. Dramatic moments whiz by in a rush to get through the packed plot, while changes from the book undercut the emotional impact. Still, it’s funny when it needs to be and stays with you in the best ways. The Help turns out to be a good movie that could have been great-but for all that, it’s no less important.

For more on The Help author Kathryn Stockett, see page 103.