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The Help - Movie Review by A.D.Harris

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(taken from Adam's Personal Blog: theadamharris.blogspot.com)

The Help is an inspirational film. Set in the early 1960s the story follows two African-American maids who raise white children for families as well as tending to every other household chore. These maids are named "The Help" and deal with many issues revolving around the racial lines caused by their skin colour. The Help focuses very much on the female perspective, told from the viewpoints of the white housewives and the maids in an interweaving story set in Jackson, Mississippi.

All things are stirred up by "Skeeter," Emma Stone's inspiring journalist who has just returned home following her graduation. Skeeter is undoubtedly the neutral playing field with which The Help manages to juggle the opposing and drastically opinionated characters from the African American and White communities. Her disgust at how the "atrocious" Hilly Holbrook treats all the maids leads to the main plot ling that the film follows. That plot is trying to get "The Help" to talk about their own experiences in working with their white families to expose and educate people in how the racial issues are wrong. Emma Stone proves exactly why she is the most talented of Hollywood's youngest group. She delivers a controlled and compelling performance that makes Skeeter a truly likeable and important figure despite her conflicts between her friends and the maids. With a performance never less than beautifully real, Stone delivers some of the truly heart-felt moments of the film. When she cries you can feel that emotion and it reflects back into the audience. Besides appearance there is perhaps another reason Stone was paired up as the daughter to the ever brilliant Allison Janney's mother. Both are truly gifted at their art and are perhaps the most talented of both their generations. Whilst Janney never got the attention from film makers that she deserved, Stone has found that fame and it can only mean great things for the future. A scene towards the end of the film between the two is heartfelt and delivers another message that the film has in the most beautiful of ways.

The undoubted stars of the film however are Aibeleen Clark and Minnie Jackson. Both maids working for different families, their stories interweave flawlessly and the friendship between the two is as beautiful as I have ever seen on screen. Viola Davis, best known for her stage work as well as her Oscar nomination for eight minutes screen time in 'Doubt' is mesmerizing as Aibeleen. Having lost her only son to an incident not initially revealed a few months prior to the start of the film, she has found hope and life in looking after her family’s only daughter. Throughout, Davis' eyes speak louder than words. The sadness is always present in them even when she is delivering some of the laugh out loud moments that The Help has in abundance. Where Davis truly excels though is in the moments of sorrow. A few moments where she lets her emotions break through are the highlights of the film; a small wordless scene where she sits in the outside toilet her family make her use brings more than a tear to the eye. It leaves the pit of your stomach aching that even only fifty years ago we could ever view each other this differently because of the colour of our skin. The narrator of the film, Aibeleen's story is the bow that ties everything together and in her final scenes she gives The Help the most amazing bitter sweet feeling that I have never felt before whilst watching a film.

Octavia Spencer's Minnie Jackson is given a different path. Starting off as Hilly's maid, she is much less respected by her family than Aibeleen is. A fantastic story arc between the two characters emerges around the half way point and finds Minnie on the hunt for a new job and leaves Hilly with a little more than she bargained with. It is moments like this that The Help shows how clever it is, mixing the sorrow and shock of the story with some moments that have the audience whooping with joy and crying with laughter. It is film making at its finest. Minnie is another genius creation by Spencer. Always hot headed and speaking her thoughts regardless of the consequences, she still never distances you from the raw pain and sorrow that Minnie has in her life. The fact that The Help has three leading ladies who all are worthy of every award that the film community can offer speaks volumes for how excellent The Help is.

The rest of the cast are equally brilliant. Bryce Dallas Howard's Hilly is as despicable as can be, yet she also manages to bring out the clear ignorance in Hilly rather than making you feel she is just evil. This highlights the message that the racial divides are also down to arrogance and ignorance. There is no denying that Dallas Howard's character makes that clear. The other stand out performance is Jessica Chastain as Celia Foote. Celia recently married Hilly's old flame and is introduced by the women as someone who is horrible. Throughout the film however Celia emerges as a woman who sees no difference in the colours of skin, and delivers fantastically funny moments as well as a tragically sombre scene towards the final third. The male cast, whilst never in the spotlight all equally shine and provide an enlightening but undeveloped view of how the men of the house felt towards The Help.

Written for the screen and directed by newcomer Tate Taylor, The Help is evidence that even with little experience you can create a masterpiece of film. Taylor's script draws out the importance that the novel has and wrapped it nicely into a screenplay that has humour and emotional pull in equal spades. The period setting is beautifully recreated and his direction creates a sweeping view of 1960s Mississippi that feels real and faithful to the time. Not many directors could create something so close to perfection first time round and it suggests a bright future for film making with Taylor at the helm.

Overall The Help is everything it could have been. It packs every shocking punch to the right level and boasts an ensemble of talent that is flawless in delivery. Through every laugh and tear you find yourselves immersed in a world where racial right and wrong still has incredibly blurred lines.

However bitter sweet you feel come the final credits, you'll feel happy for the characters, who in many ways defeated their "superiors" and left with their heads held high.

As a result, so should you.

9.5/10

Adam

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Twitter: @AdDHarris
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