The 1960s was a time of upheaval and change in USA. The equal rights movement was picking up steam and African-American people all across the country were making a stand for equality and equal voting rights. It is in this politically-charged and volatile situation that The Help, a film based on the bestseller by Kathryn Stockett, is set. Boasting a cast of impressive female actresses, it received very good returns at the US Box Office.
The story focuses on a group of African-American maids working for wealthy white women in Jackson, Mississippi. Skeeter (Emma Stone), a young female journalist convinces Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) to tell her story so that it can be published and perhaps change the system. This causes them to come into conflict with local socialite Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is campaigning herself for separate bathrooms for maids.
The subject matter, which could've been controversial, is handled with due care and attention and The Help is treated as more of an actors' showcase than a political-point film. Emma Stone, who is fast becoming an incredible performer, once again puts in a great turn. Skeeter could so easily be portrayed as manipulative or contemptible, but Stone keeps it plucky and upbeat and it's almost impossible not to relate to her forward-thinking point of view. Allison Janney is also superb in a subtle, morally ambiguous role that never quite picks a side in the debate.
It is Davis, however, who steals the show, with her blistering turn as Aibileen, a worldly-wise maid who has to heartbreakingly has to say goodbye to all of the seventeen children that she has raised in her life. Sadly this is also where the problems begin to creep into the script. To describe The Help as schmaltzy would be an understatement. It is predictable and the heavy scenes are so overdone that it's hard not to grimace at such obvious emotional manipulation. But the biggest problem is the role of Skeeter in relation to the maids.
While the story of the bravery of a group of African-American maids is incredible and moving, there is a little too much emphasis on Skeeter's role. She is heartily praised for her decision to pursue this story and make sure that the maids' have their say, but there is something uncomfortable in watching a film about equal rights where a white woman is leading the charge for equality.
Despite this point, The Help is a perfectly enjoyable, funny and moving romp through the history books with cinematography that bursts, all light and colours, off of the screen at you. The period dress helps to create the right atmosphere, while the cast take real pleasure in delivering some of the best performances of the year and Emma Stone takes one step closer to becoming the new Sandra Bullock.
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