Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Help

Okay I am using actual movie reviews, but only because they say it so much better than I ever could.

Set in Mississippi during the violent Civil Rights era, “The Help” uses lots of crisp humor and sharply drawn, well-cast characters to empathize with the plight of black women working as house servants for self-centered, racist white women.

Tate Taylor's movie, based on Kathryn Stockett's best-selling novel, focuses on a white, wannabe journalist named Skeeter (played by Emma Stone) who interviews these black women and records their revealing, personal stories in an anonymously written book titled “The Help.”

It doesn't actually change anything, but it apparently makes everyone feel better.

Adopting a light, comic approach laced with serious turns (“Steel Magnolias” comes to mind). I think that is exactly why I enjoyed it so much.

Hollywood, with its frenzied pursuit of men, teenage boys and kids, relies almost exclusively on romantic comedies and adaptations of the works of Jane Austen and Stephenie Meyer to satisfy the moviegoing needs of women.

So it's particularly refreshing to report that "The Help," an unapologetically non-romantic drama about women, female friendships and the courage to do the right thing, is heartfelt, generally levelheaded and brightly entertaining, with nary a glimpse of a shirtless teen wolf or scornful British gentleman, and barely a moment's fretful consideration of what thoughts might be percolating inside the thick head of some handsome lug.

Viola Davis as steady Aibileen and Octavia Spencer as volatile Minny are excellent, with Davis continually grounding the movie while Spencer launches its most inflammatory flights of fancy, including the deftly handled revelation of Minny's most defiant act, the aptly name "Terrible Awful."

Emma Stone, as Skeeter, is also warmly convincing, while Jessica Chastain winningly walks a tricky line as spurned "white trash" socialite Celia Foote. One of the movie's most delightful outcomes is the convergence of the arcs followed by Celia and Minny, with Spencer and Chastain creating a genuinely warmhearted friendship.

"The Help" has a great warmth of feeling for its trio of protagonists, and generally tells their story with deep affection and appropriate humor. Even male viewers, if they can be pried away from their giant talking robots and sword-wielding barbarian warriors, may appreciate that.

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