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THE HELP (2011)

>> Friday, August 12, 2011

Every movie-goer likes an underdog, because every movie-goer likes to be inspired. Without a doubt, The Help accomplishes all this and more while continuing a theme from The Rise of the Planet of the Apes - one focused on civil rights. In this case though, it's one based on a true story. It's not a story that hasn't been told before, but it still amazes me when I watch a movie like this (that takes place only fifty years ago) and see just how far we've come in progressing racial equality. Unfortunately, fifty years has only made racism more taboo as opposed to obliterating it all together. Even then, it feels more like some people have just shifted their hatred to other races around the world.

The Help is based on the novel by Kathrym Stockett, with the screen adaptation by Tate Taylor - who also directs. It centers around Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone), an aspiring journalist who finds herself doing a housekeeping column in a Jackson, Mississippi newspaper. Upon asking a friend's maid for cleaning tips, she finds out a lot more about what's going on between black maids and the white families they serve. The main maid in question is named Aibileen Clark, who is played by the wonderful Viola Davis.

Hesitant at first, Aibileen eventually gives in and begins to tell Skeeter her story. It only takes one call to the publisher of her dreams for Skeeter's idea to be tentatively picked up. There's a problem however, very few maids want to tell their story - even if Skeeter's attempt to share their inequality with the world is righteous. Especially when it comes to the ability for a maid to use a white family's toilet. As Skeeter states, the maids are allowed into these homes and are instructed to watch out for the children and essentially hold the ideal American suburban dream together. Yet, they have fewer human rights.

Along with the 'goodwill towards all mankind' message, a strong feature of The Help is the outstanding performances. Both Stone and Davis are pitch perfect and have a good chance at Oscar nominations, as does Allison Janney (who plays Skeeter's mother). The biggest surprise performance for belonged to Jessica Chastain, who plays a white woman who finds herself similarly outcast by the rest of the debutants.

The Help gets an open door. It's inspiring, touching and funny. Stone is at her best in this film and shows us what the cutie from Superbad can really accomplish. It makes me all the more hopeful for The Amazing Spider-Man next year (in which she coincidentally takes over Bryce Dallas Howard's role as Gwen Stacy). While at times The Help verges on something we've seen before, it never loses it's heart. It's that heart that keeps the film together, and keeps you caring.

*Stills courtesy of Dreamworks SKG


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