The Help


Like the book within the book on which it’s based, “The Help” largely works because it’s often told from the point of view of the black maids it aims to (mildly) emancipate. Thus, while no one should expect the movie to thrust Hollywood forward in terms of race representation, many can rest easy knowing it isn’t just another “The Blind Side” – an ostensibly anti-racism film that’s hopelessly racist nonetheless. By giving its minorities authoritative voices that, however broadly drawn, are truly heard and respected, “The Help” frees itself from simply being yet more pandering soul food for white folks. 

Of course, it still provides the requisite white protagonist chasing a dream, this time in the form of Skeeter (Emma Stone), a fresh college grad and aspiring author who’s the liberal light amidst her uppity, bigoted friends in 1960s Mississippi. Working as a ghostwriter for a local housekeeping column, Skeeter starts gleaning tips from her friend’s maid, Aibileen (Viola Davis), while also initiating a book project that explores the secret lives of the black help. There’s crushing pain to be revealed, and also plenty of dirt to dish, as evidenced by the chapters offered by Aibileen’s brassy best friend, Minny (Octavia Spencer), the former maid of the story’s nastiest dolled-up segregationist (Bryce Dallas Howard). 

Adapted from Kathryn Stockett’s novel, this is a vastly entertaining movie that keeps its pace and interest bubbling throughout a hefty 137-minute length. Davis gives an aching, transcendent performance enriched by everything from inflections to the depth of her gaze (she’s the true standout, despite the gifted Spencer hogging all the buzz), while enigmatic up-and-comer Jessica Chastain is an infectious hoot as a kindly, ignorant outsider. (Surprisingly, the weak link is “It Girl” Stone, who’s miscast and looks lost amidst her memorable co-stars.) 

“The Help” has a certain aversion to complicated conflict, and it opts for a weepy, tacked-on coda that works against its merits and further muddles its dual-heroine perspective. But, all told, it’s a big and bountiful experience, a predominantly sensitive bit of historical fiction that fills you up, fluff and all. 

The Help


Three reels out of four
Now playing in area theaters

Recommended Rental

Win Win


Available Aug. 23

Actor-turned-filmmaker Tom McCarthy (“The Visitor”) returns with “Win Win,” another highly empathetic American indie that follows a struggling lawyer (Paul Giamatti) as he makes some awfully desperate choices and becomes a surrogate dad to a superstar teen wrestler (Alex Shaffer). McCarthy shows his usual talent for merging true humanity with only-in-the-movies coincidence, and his great cast also includes Bobby Cannavale and Amy Ryan. SPR 

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