The Help, based on Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel, features the strongest female ensemble cast in years, including Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, and Cicely Tyson.
They are all ultimately outshined, however, by Octavia Spencer, the actress who plays a sassy maid named Minny Jackson. I wouldn’t be surprised if she got an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress.
Like the book, the movie is about a young white woman named Skeeter (Stone) who risks a societal backlash by writing a book about what it’s like to be a black domestic (i.e. maid) to white families in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s. Skeeter forms a secret alliance with Minny (Spencer) and Abilene (Davis) to gather stories from the maids’ perspectives and shine a light on racism and intolerance among the southern elite whose children “the Help” often raise.
There are some men in the movie, but their appearances are brief and largely inconsequential. Violence is implied and discussed, but never shown. In fact, the movie is far more sanitized than the book in many instances. Literary purists may have a hard time with that, but I think it gives the movie a stronger chance of scoring with mainstream audiences (especially among those who haven’t read the book). Besides, the movie is already quite long, at 2 hours and 17 minutes, so something(s) obviously had to give.
The Help is about forming bonds, pushing boundaries, and promoting change – within families, among friends, and even amid strangers. At the risk of sounding cliché, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll cringe… all in appropriate balance. And that’s what makes a good story – on the written page and the big screen.