Plot summary (from the studio): Set in Mississippi during the 1960s, “The Help” stars Emma Stone (star of the breakout hit, “Zombieland”) as Skeeter, a southern society girl who returns from college determined to become a writer, but turns her friends’ lives—and a small Mississippi town—upside down when she decides to interview the black women who have spent their lives taking care of prominent southern families. Academy Award® nominee Viola Davis (“Eat Pray Love”) stars as Aibileen, Skeeter’s best friend’s housekeeper, who is the first to open up—to the dismay of her friends in the tight-knit black community. Despite Skeeter’s life-long friendships hanging in the balance, she and Aibileen continue their collaboration and soon more women come forward to tell their stories—and as it turns out, they have a lot to say. Along the way, unlikely friendships are forged and a new sisterhood emerges, but not before everyone in town has a thing or two to say themselves when they become unwittingly—and unwillingly—caught up in the changing times.
Warning: Spoilers below!
- Although I read the book a while ago and don’t remember all of the details, I think the film remained fairly true to the original while simultaneously improving on the novel by cutting out most of the boring parts.
- There were some truly wonderful, emotional scenes in this one. I know I didn’t cry while reading the book, but the following scenes in the film made me either tear up or cry outright: Skeeter learning the truth about Constantine; Hilly’s second maid working up the nerve to ask for a $75 loan and her shame at being dismissed so rudely; Celia being ignored by Hilly and the other women when she brought a pie to Hilly’s house; Johnny revealing that he knew about Milly all along, and then escorting her to the house to eat the meal that Celia prepared for her; Aibileen getting fired at the end and walking slowly away from the Leefolt home — but not before getting Mae Mobley to repeat the “You is kind, you is smart, you is important” mantra once more.
- The acting performances were superb. Not only Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, who were brilliant, but also Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Emma Stone. I was particularly surprised by Emma Stone. I’d never much paid attention to her prior to this film, but you can bet I’ll be looking for other stuff in the future.
- Despite being more than two hours long, the great pacing to the screenplay made the time fly right by. It’s a rare movie that can hold my attention to the point that I don’t play with my phone every 5 minutes, but this one did.
- Okay, so maybe the characters–both black and white–were a bit too stereotypical to be entirely believable. But hey, this was fiction and the story was interesting enough that I was willing to hand-wave this problem.
- I didn’t like any of the scenes involving Skeeter’s would-be boyfriend. First, I don’t particularly like Chris Lowell and thought he was miscast here. Second, he was on screen for less than 5 minutes total, so what was the point?
Having watched a string of mediocre-to-bad films recently, I’m inclined to be a bit more generous than usual in my rating of The Help. It had an interesting premise, terrific performances, and managed to keep me riveted from beginning to end. I give this one 5 stars out of 5.