The Help – Movie Review

This wonderful film is not a chick flick. It’s controversial subject matter is far beyond gender bias. 

It’s the story of repression, rebellion, the winds of change and the beginning of emergence from a shameful chapter of American history when “slavery” was commonly accepted.  

Sure it’s set in 60’s Mississippi, but the unspoken code of the town is out is a hair away from the days when white Americans owned black people.  In this “modern” world, blacks still follow a strictly mandated code of ethics set down by law. 

No sharing of utensils, washrooms, or social connections with whites,  speak when spoken to, never “sass”,  and take it when the children black servants raised for white parents turn out to be just like their parents – racist.

Emma Stone plays Skeeter the town rebel and aspiring writer who doesn’t share her middle class white friends’ disdain of blacks.  Her family is wealthy and “owns” black servants, but somehow she has escaped the ludicrous mindset handed down to her over the past 400 years that she is superior to them. 

Her mother is a racist, all of her friends are racists, and the town’s foundations are racist. And yet she is not. 

Skeeter pitches an idea to a New York publishing house, to interview the town’s maids and write an expose of their lives as “less than” working for whites, raising white children while their own are at home without them.   It’s a foolish idea of course, one that could bring trouble and violence to her and her interview subjects.  

Aibilene, Viola Davis in a stunning performance, wisely refuses to take part.  But she clearly has a world of hurt under that docile face and manner.  Soon she starts to talk and then her friend Minnie talks.   The interviews take place in secrecy and the book and its case studies are anonymous.

What they reveal is a history of shocking deprivations and abuses at the hands of their owners, people who hand them down in wills and treat them as property.  

It raises the spectre of evil as a lifestyle, personified by Bryce Dallas Howard’s Hilly, a sociopathic social climber who runs the lives of her like like-minded friends and hates and fears blacks.  She seethes with hatred and anger and an obsessed with bathroom practices of blacks. 

All that and her signature flowery pastel dresses and glossy pink lipstick.   She’s horrifying and funny at the same time.

The film is rich with wonderful characters; enough attention is given to each of them for us to get to know them and in the end it’s like sitting with these people and feeling an intimacy that’s rare in movies. 

It captures the time and place and experience of living under the limitations of these people’s lives.  And there is no happy, rosy ending to tie it all up.  

This is a courageous and beautifully executed film that may point Howard, Stone and Davis to nominations, come awards season.

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35mm drama
Written and directed by Tate Taylor based on the novel by Katherine Stockett
Opens Aug 10
Runtime: 2.5 hours
Country:  USA / United Arab Emirates
Language: English