Movie Review - The Help

Jessica Chastain (left) &
Octavia Spencer in "The Help"
The Help rose to the top of the box office during its second weekend of release. Most major movies never do better on the charts than their first week, but this one did. According to the website Box Office Mojo, The Help had earned $20 million between August 19 and 21, making it the #1 film after 12 days in release.

The word-of-mouth for this film has been phenomenal. The CinemaScore has been one of the highest of the year. Aside from Harry Potter, this will probably be the best book adaptation of 2011.

Based on Kathryn Stockett's best-selling novel, written and directed by Stockett's friend, Tate Taylor, Viola Davis stars as Aibileen, an African-American maid in 1960s Mississippi. Emma Stone co-stars as Skeeter, an aspiring, young, white writer who decides to author a book based on the points-of-view of maids dealing with bigotries and discrimination in that area.

Everyone talks about Octavia Spencer who plays fellow maid, Minny, as the actress who steals this movie, and she is a scene stealer in that she gets a lot of the laughs. Nevertheless, Viola Davis stands as the best actress here. Davis delivers a speech where Aibileen is talking about her son, which brought me to tears. Davis carries the emotional weight of this movie so well.

Allison Janney who plays Skeeter's mom and Dallas Bryce Howard who plays Hilly give good performances as well. If I were handing out awards though, mine would go to Jessica Chastain who plays Celia Foote. The arc of her character may not seem like much. She's merely a ditsy, sweet woman, but the range that Chastain has to put on display is certainly noticeable.

This is truly a chick flick in that it's a movie about women. The men are practically non-existent. Of the few men who make any impression are Leslie Jordan who plays Skeeter's newspaper editor, Mr. Blackly and Chris Lowell who plays Skeeter's boyfriend, Stuart.

But, with the absence of men, obviously this movie becomes about issues that pertain more to women, specifically issues like motherhood. We look at a woman who at present doesn't want to be a mother, another woman who can't be a mother, and another woman who is a mother to all children, even ones of opposite skin tone. The ways that these women behave in these mother-daughter relationships is very much telling.

Yes, there is the usual conflict of the pre-feminist movement where a woman's concern was mainly with finding a husband and housekeeping. The filmmakers quickly dismiss that aspect of pre-feminist life. This movie instead focuses more about motherhood and how women treat other women. There is even one scene in example where Aunjanue Ellis who plays Yule Mae ask Hilly for a favor. Hilly's husband is in the room, but he gets up and quickly leaves because the dynamic really is all about the two women.

While it may seem antithetical, the acts of two mothers, one white and one black, letting go of their children, become the defining acts of these two women. Both represent what could be done and what couldn't be done in that time period.

Give a listen to "The Living Proof" by Mary J. Blige and "Don't Knock" by Mavis Staples, played during this movie's end credits.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for thematic material.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 17 mins.


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