- Running time:
- 146 minutes
- Viola Davis -
- Emma Stone -
- Bryce Dallas Howard -
- Octavia Spencer -
- Jessica Chastain -
- Celia Foote
Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) has been a housekeeper in the segregated South of Jackson, Mississippi her entire adult life—devoting more time to raising other women’s children than she was able to provide for her own son. But things are starting to change with the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Aspiring journalist “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone) wants to shed light on the story of Aibileen, and other women like her. That’s easier said than done, as even frustrated domestics like Aibileen’s outspoken friend Minny (Octavia Spencer) are afraid to go on record, and locals like Skeeter’s childhood friend Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) don’t see anything wrong with a tradition of oppression.
The buzz: Based on Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 novel—a certified phenomenon that spent over 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list—this adaptation is written and directed by Stockett’s childhood friend, Tate Taylor (whose only previous feature was the little seen indie “Pretty Ugly People”). He lined up quite a cast for the female driven ensemble which also includes Jessica Chastain, Sissy Spacek, Allison Janney, Cicely Tyson, Aunjanue Ellis and Mary Steenburgen.
The verdict: In a summer defined by crass comedies and superhero sagas, “The Help” steps up to ask audiences to invest in the lives of everyday women and face some ugly truths about America’s recent past. And to do so without abandoning all desire for entertainment. This is a movie about serious issues that doesn’t want to punish its audience, but instead make its viewers laugh and cry and walk away inspired, in the grand tradition of Hollywood’s most popular dramas. Thanks to the divine cast, it mostly succeeds. There are rough spots—Taylor is still finding his way as a filmmaker, Howard wrestles with a monstrously caricatured villain, Stone weathers an anemic romantic subplot (and helps co-star Chris Lowell maintain some dignity in the film’s most prominent thankless male role)—but they’re balanced, and eventually outnumbered, by the film’s strengths. Chief among them is the remarkable ensemble of actresses. There hasn’t been a film that’s used so many women so well since last year’s one-two punch of Nicole Holofcener’s “Please Give” and Rodrigo Garcia’s “Mother and Child.” While every one gets her moment to shine—and Davis and Stone are as strong as ever in the leading roles—the scene-stealing chemistry between Spencer’s no-nonsense Minny (a character inspired by the actress’ own demeanor and personality, if not life experience) and Chastain’s sunny sex bomb Celia Foote (a stunning change of pace from her angelic mother in “Tree of Life”) emerges as the film’s funniest and most moving delight. Their unique bond is one of several welcome touches that allow this sometimes one-dimensional narrative to explore race relations in ways that aren’t exclusively black and white.
Did you know? The film’s mouth-watering Southern cooking looks sensational on screen, but Chastain’s vegan diet restrictions required some unique movie magic. A special fried chicken recipe was created just for her—soy hot dogs wrapped in vegan turkey slices rolled in vegan flour and almond milk and fried in vegetable oil.
Follow Metromix's Geoff Berkshire on Twitter: @geoffberkshire
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