“The Help”, the insanely popular book by author Kathryn Stockett, is now in theaters and not a minute too soon for it’s legion of fans. First-time director Tate Taylor is a friend of the author and optioned the book before Hollywood came knocking, and I’m glad to say he moves things along very well. The film is beautifully shot with great detail to the turbulent times. “The Help” takes us back to the early ’60’s, at the height of the Civil Rights movement, although in Jackson, Mississippi, the Society Belles are desperate to hang on to the separate, but not really equal, theory of race. Bryce Dallas Howard, yes “Opie’s” talented daughter, plays Hilly Holbrook, the town’s queen bee. She sanctimoniously organizes fund drives for the “starving children of Africa”, while doing everything to undermine the desire for dignity of her “help”. It’s a challengingly evil role and she is brilliant at it. Octavia Spenser plays Minnie, one of Hilly’s former maids, who exacts a particularly sweet revenge on her snooty boss, and provides a great deal of the humor in the film. Both of these women could get Best Supporting Actress nods next winter. Angela Davis (“Doubt”) plays Aibeleen, the lead character, a single mom who lost her only son, but continues to lavish love and support to the white children she’s help raised. She is certainly a lock for a Best Actress Nomination. Aibeleen decides to risk everything by sharing her viewpoint with aspiring writer Eugenia (Skeeter) Phelan, played by this summer’s “it” girl, Emma Stone. Skeeter wants to get the viewpoint of the maids and eventually gains their confidence. Skeeter was raised by in great part by Constantine (Cicely Tyson) and has to battle her self absorbed mother Charlotte (played by the always excellent Allison Janney) in order to dodge Charlotte’s matchmaking and get to the real reason for Constantine’s removal as maid. There’s a fine performance by Jessica Chastain ( she played Brad Pitt’s wife in “Tree of Life” this summer) as Celia Foote, the buxom good-hearted, white trash, wife of Hilly’s former boyfriend. Celia hires the outcast Minnie and the pair form a formidable alliance. Director Taylor has the sense not to wrap up the story with a Happy Hollywood ending but with a sense that, although there’s advancement in racial equality, there’s a long road ahead.
My GPA Rating: 4.0