THE HELP Movie Review

by Rick Grant
Tate Taylor’s screenplay adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s novel tells the story of a scary smart young woman, Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone) who writes a scandalous book that breaks all the racist social taboos of their Mississippi town.
The book, “The Help,” was put together from interviews she had with the black maids of her upper-class neighborhood. The beleaguered servants tell all, causing great consternation among the Southern belles, who may or may not have treated their maids with respect. This expose’ of the racially oppressed maids is told against the backdrop of the emerging Civil Rights Movement, as blacks rise up to demand equal rights.
Taylor’s script is a delicate balance of humor and poignancy as Skeeter learns just how deep racism runs through the city’s collective consciousness. She ends up having to interview her subjects secretly at their homes. The young stuck-up town’s women are afraid that the maids will give away their family secrets.
With a strong supporting cast including Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark: Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly Holbrook; Allison Jenny as Charlotte Phelan (Skeeter’s mother) and Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson. Taylor develops the characters quickly so the audience gets to know them early in the film.
The gang of uppity white women are overly demanding bitches. They all have bought into the 1960s attitude of racism and privilege. The maids are scared to step out of line for fear of reprisal from hate groups or losing their jobs.
With the Civil Rights movement escalating, Skeeter’s interviews with these mistreated maids required great courage for the them to speak candidly, knowing that, although their real names weren’t used, the stories could be traced back to them by their employers. Still, it was an outlet to air their deep seeded anger and frustration.
Sissy Spacek has a short but pivotal role as Hilly’s mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s but has moments of clarity and gets even with her daughter for throwing her into a nursing home.
At times, the actresses playing society women seem to be playing their roles overly broadly for comedic affect, but they each succeed in bringing their respective characters to the forefront as shallow shells of human beings.
Watching this film I remember the era’s volatile protests and pervasive fear. In the end, I can laugh and cry but feel grateful that we have come this far. For quality film devotees, this is a must see, memorable movie.