* Prices may differ from that shown
The Help is a film adaptation of a book by the same name by Kathryn Stockett. It has an excellent cast and stars Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney and Viola Davis, among others.
I really enjoyed the film - it deals with a very serious subject matter, but in an uplifting and touching way that has flecks of humour and light throughout. It is a film which is suitable both for easy watching, and for something more serious.
The Help is set in the fifties/sixties and concerns a young white woman from a well to do back ground - Skeeter (Stone) - who has recently graduated and returned to Jackson Mississippi where she is trying to get a job as a journalist. She is the only one of her group of friends who works, and is clearly uncomfortable with the socialite circle she sits in from the outset. As her journalistic career blooms, Skeeter starts a project writing about the Help - the silent, hard working black women who tend the homes and raise the children of the white middle classes - including her friends' children. As the film continues, Skeeter learns more about the injustices faces by these hard working black women, in the context of the burgeoning civil rights movement. She also finds herself further alienated from her friendship group who, at the behest of their leader Miss Hilly Holbrook, start a campaign to segregate the help further by introducing "coloured only" bathrooms in their homes. Skeeter also uncovers a dark secret around her own upbringing and family.
I would really recommend this film (and, incidentally, the book which goes with it).
The Help falls within the drama genre and seems to have caused a bit of a stir amongst critics and audiences who have hyped it up. The Help is based on the Number 1 New York Times bestseller by Kathryn Stockett.
We are thrown in to 1960’s Mississippi, where we meet Skeeter, a Southern girl fresh out of college and aspiring to become a writer. Against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement, Skeeter sees the inequality and treatment of the black women around her and decides to write a piece on their experiences. She begins by speaking with Aibileen, her best friend’s housekeeper, who starts to open up. The interview sheds light on a some goings-on but the fellow black community are not happy with her involvement initially, worried about word getting out and them getting in to trouble. The relationship between Aibileen and Skeeter deepens as stories are shared, and a few other voices come in to the fold. It looks as if Skeeter may be able to pen a book with the stories that are being told, but where the truth starts to surface, so do the cracks in the community. The imbalance between the housekeepers and the white socialites grows, friendships are stretched and ugly truths start to surface.
As the film continues, we see more stories uncovered, and the tidal-wave impact Skeeter’s book adventure has on the town.
The cast includes Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone, and Sissy Spacek, amongst others. I quite like the diversity here, keeping it down to earth, gritty and believable without too much Hollywood sparkle. I enjoyed watching them and could empathise with the characters; they helped make it saddening, frustrating and uplifting simultaneously, taking the edge off it being too depressing or politically orientated by adding touches of humour and sarcasm.
Whilst the stories uncovered are shocking, the treatment of these women appalling, there is also a sense of poignancy, hope and inspiration. The film is a testament to change and how just one person can start the ball rolling, but it takes patience and bravery to do it.
The film has a good quality feel to it. Without big action or fancy effects, what you do get is a heartfelt portrayal of the 1960’s Southern America during a tumultuous time of change.
I must admit that initially I had some trouble getting in to the film, finding the dialogue and slower speed not particularly engaging. However, that could have been the frame of mind I was in. Fortunately, it didn’t take too long before I became intrigued, finding certain characters easy to watch and losing myself in the essence of the era. There’s more to the film than just hearing the stories. The whole notion of secretly writing them encapsulates the societal tide, the changing way of thinking at the time, the struggles within the community and the friendships involved. It gave The Help a multi-faceted approach and depth, making it more interesting and emotionally evocative.
Directed and Written by Tate Taylor
Starring Viola Davis, Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ahna O''Reilly, Sissy Spacek, Allison Janney
Running Time: 146 minutes
**Set in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s, ''The Help'' tells the story of Aibileen Clark, an ageing maid to Miss Elizabeth Leefolt, Minny Jackson, the ''sass-mouthing'' ex-maid to the town''s first-class bitch, Hilly Holbrook, and Skeeter Phelan, an independent, young white woman who decides that things need changing in the world of black and white.
Skeeter''s just returned from university, and wants to pursue a career in writing. She is told by a publisher to write about something that concerns her, and decides she wants to write something from the point of view of the help (maids) in Jackson. She finally persuades Aibileen to help, and share some of her stories and experiences as a black maid.
Meanwhile, the smart-mouthed Minny is fired by Miss Hilly, and after seeking the sweetest kind of revenge, finds work at Miss Celia Foote''s - a Marilyn Monroe-esque girl from a working-class background, who married Hilly''s ex...
**Apologies if the synopsis doesn''t seem to make sense, there''s quite a few subplots which make a lot more sense when you actually watch the film!
The Help really is one of those films that manages to critically acclaimed as well as commercially successful. It had a great story, and all the production design, costume, lighting etc gave it a light enough feel to it, but it still had a great heart to it, as well as dealing with such important social issues. The acting was most likely the best aspect, with killer performances from Octavia Spencer, Viola Davis and Jessica Chastain, who were all Oscar-nominated while Spencer actually won hers.
The story and script were great - quirky enough to be considered very original, but it kept the characters just conventional enough for us to recognise in a certain way. It was humorous too, with many wisecracks coming from Minny (my own personal favourite character).
Octavia Spencer gave one of 2011''s best performances as Minny, keeping her sweet but still sassy, and making the most out of all her humorous lines. I felt that her best scenes were with Jessica Chastain (as Celia Foote), and there were some really touching and uplifting moments between those two. Spencer won an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA and a SAG award for her performance.
Jessica Chastain, who played the bubbly but slightly nervous Celia Foote was also excellent - she had considerably less screen time than Spencer, but every minute she had, she made the most of and really lit up the film with a less conventional character - a white woman who seems to rely on her black maid. Chastain was nominated for the same awards as Spencer, but lost them all to her co-star.
Viola Davis played Aibileen, the real central character of the story. Davis was great, though she had many more moving moments than her co-stars, and many of her most charming scenes were with Emma Stone as Skeeter. Davis was nominated for an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA and won a SAG award for her performance.
Also noteworthy were Emma Stone as Skeeter and Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly - their two characters started off as friends but grew to become enemies. Howard really made her character a total bitch which worked really well, and Stone managed to counteract this with her character.
The film is rated 12A for mature themes (racism), a bit of violence though little is shown on-screen, smoking and one miscarriage scene, which isn''t too horrific but could be distressing for smaller children, and is actually very sad and moving. Know your kids, but I would say this is a good film for older children and pre-teens, especially to learn about racial tension.
Star - Viola Davis & Octavia Spencer
Certificate - PG13
Run Time - 146 minutes
Country - USA
Blockbuster - £2.00 per night
Awards - I Oscar (4 nominations)
Amazon -£4.28 DVD (£5.25 Blue Ray)
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Just as many black people chained by white America in the bad old days are behind bars today in the bulging US prison system, now 67% non white, the divisions as strong as ever from the slave legacy. America has tried to heal those wounds through cinema and verse with seminal books and films, from To Kill a Mockingbird and Roots to The Color Purple, powerful journeys down that road. When they do address it they don't like to enflame things, a saccharine approach often the result.
So along comes 'The Help', based on the book of the same name by Kathryn Stockett (2009), a tome rejected some 60 times by publishers, believe it or not, Americas racist past not selling as much as it did in those good old days. But the book had great potential for a screenplay because of its blousy comic and poignant themes and garnered an impressive five Oscar nominations, Octavia Spencer winning for Best Supporting Actress in 2011. The Academy loves to throw awards at films that help to make them look liberal and righteous but it took them until 1982 to award their third ever acting Oscar to a black actor, Louis Gossett Junior for Best Supporting in "Officer and a Gentleman, the silent racism still bubbling away America doesn't want to talk or make films about. It wasn't until 1990 that a black woman received a second acting Oscar, Whoopee Goldberg for the brilliant Ghost, 50 years since Hattie McDaniel was the first to use the indoor toilet at The Oscars with Best Supporting in Gone with the Wind.
= = = Cast = = =
Emma Stone ... Skeeter Phelan
Viola Davis ... Aibileen Clark
Bryce Dallas Howard ... Hilly Holbrook
Octavia Spencer ... Minny Jackson
Jessica Chastain ... Celia Foote
Ahna O'Reilly ... Elizabeth Leefolt
Allison Janney ... Charlotte Phelan
Anna Camp ... Jolene French
Eleanor Henry ... Mae Mobley
Emma Henry ... Mae Mobley
Chris Lowell ... Stuart Whitworth
Cicely Tyson ... Constantine Jefferson
Mike Vogel ... Johnny Foote
Sissy Spacek ... Missus Walters
Brian Kerwin ... Robert Phelan
= = = The Plot = = =
1950s Jacksonville, Mississippi...
Pretty Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) is back from college and looking for a job, offered a position on the Jacksonville Times to write about cooking and cleaning. But she wants to do something more meaningful alongside that and so decides to interview the local black maids to tell their story of what its like to be in service to rich white Americans, which is not always going to be comfortable reading, especially for the local socialites and residents it's based on. The female help often have to spend their day bringing up the rich white kids of the lazy gin drinking bridge playing white women and so have to neglect their own kids in the process, the biggest heartbreak. Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) knows all about that and willing to come forward, soon badgering her best friends Hilly (Bryce Dallas) and Minny (Octavia Spencer) to tell all, an empowering journey. But it's tough for Skeeter to get the girls to talk in confidence, the consequences sure to be bad for all if discovered, at the same time having to write an article for her bigoted white friends in the local newsletter about the proposal of the 'Disease-preventative Bill' that requires every white home to have a separate bathroom for the colored help. But she is determined to let that colored help the right to tell their story, very much the only white liberal intellectual in the town, adoring the black help who she was bought up by. But their lays the problem - all her friends and family were raised by black help and yet they turn out as those horrid generic bigots, the powerful contradiction to be addressed by her planned book, why the fancy folk of a Manhattan publisher are keen on the project.
Mum Charlotte (Allison Janney) cant be doing with all this hornets nest shaking and just wants her daughter to marry a rich man and have kids, the way its always been done in these parts, handsome and arrogant Stuart Whitworth (Chris Lowell) being lined up. But as the book nears completion word is out the maids are talking, bitchy white mom Elizabeth Leefolt (Ahna O'Reilly) on to Skeeter and ready to hit back, but not aware of the book just yet.
= = = Results = = =
Critics were mixed on the film transference and felt it was over sentimental and somewhat trivial at times with one too many stereotypes on show, considering the important themes of racism and civil rights. Arms crossed eye bulging black maids and the southern racist drawl coming from every white woman in the film wasn't what it was like back then, I'm sure. In my experience of a similar system or maids and help in South Africa, black and white depended on each other in a complex way for work and family and very few were racist or against that system. Black Africa simply couldn't provide the commerce white Africa could, regardless of where the money ended up, so the system creating mass employment. I'm not saying Apartheid South Africans had maids to simply create jobs but that what it became. I worked alongside black help in a hotel in Cape Town and we got on great. Without white employers where would they be was the surprising attitude.
It's hard to argue with the feeling this has been sanitized for the cinema and some saying a lot of the humor and obvious pathos and pain lost from the superior book because of that. Making the whites all simplistic bigots and the maids wise and sassy was the easy option to sell it to the audience. It's almost as if we can't make these movies anymore unless they are sympathetic to the black struggle. Political correctness demands we don't offend anymore. The Academy love anything that helps to heal those civil rights wounds with a sympathetic perspective and so the Help immediately covered with garlands come award season.
The film itself is not bad though and I'm happy I rented it. It's funny in places and sad in others, all the heart strings pulled at exactly the right time. The black actresses are strong as the white actresses are two dimensional, this drama only about empowering one lot and not the other. I suspect the real story of 1950s Mississippi is more unpalatable on both sides and not one to be told in an Oscar chasing feel good movie.
It cost $25 million to make and did an impressive $211million back, a film that found an audience at just the right time to be considered for awards. It will appeal to a family adult audience as it lays out the segregation of the Deep South in palatable and humorous way. It's a gentle touching romp of the time and will leave you thoroughly entertained but don't expect a masterpiece as Oscar winning movies are no longer about the best movies and performances of the year.
= = = = RATINGS = = = =
Imdb.com - 8.0/10.0 (163,547votes)
Metacrtic.com - 62% critic's approval
Rottentomatos.com -76 % critic's approval
= = = = Critics = = = =
Film4 -'As hard to dislike as it is to truly admire, this artfully manipulative issue movie knows where its strengths lie... and most of them lie in Viola Davis'.
Mercury Tribune -'Transcends its comfort-food-for-Oprah's Book Club wrapping to get at something deeper, the gray in a story that seems so far removed as to be utterly black and white."
The Observer -'The movie is facile, not a little patronizing, and it ends up as crude and sentimental'.
This is London -'It tackles a challenging, inflammatory subject in the corniest, safest way possible'.
The Star -'To "the help," the possibility of the children growing up as clones of their parents isn't a consideration. It's all about loving the innocent. But, it's a dilemma.
= = = = = = = = = = = = =
I finally got around to watching 'The Help' last night, a movie based on the bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett. Nominated for four Oscars (Best Picture, Best Leading Actress and two Best Supporting Actress nominations), it was no surprise that this was an outstanding film.
Middle aged black maid Aibeleen Clark (Viola Davis) has been raising white children in Mississippi for most of her life. When approached by upcoming writer Skeeter (Emma Stone), who has just returned from college and is interested in writing a piece from the Black maid's perspective, she is reluctant due to the rules black people must abide by during the early 1960s.
But when Aibeleen witnesses the poor treatment of her friend Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) and a spark of courage during church, she decides to speak out and tell her story, and so does Minny.
The pain, the trials and the injustice are heartbreaking but Skeeter is determined to publish the truth and hope for change. However, as the civil rights movement reaches a peak and violence begins to erupt, the three are endangered and question whether to continue or not.
I found myself completely engaged with the story and the flow of the film was perfect. I was not bored at anytime and was invested at the cause, the culture and the lives at the time.
At over two hours long, the movie fills you with laughter, emotion and hope. The strength of the movie undoubtedly lies with the phenomenal cast, each person brings their own character to life and their subtle differences create a diverse web of relationships, exploring values and truths.
Emma Stone- Skeeter Phelan
Viola Davis- Aibeleen Clark
Octavia Spencer- Minny Jackson
Jessica Chastain- Celia Foote
Bryce Dallas Howard- Hilly Holbrook
Also stars Ahna O'Reilly, Allison Janney and Mike Vogel.
Viola Davis was phenomenal in the movie and deserved her Oscar nomination, bringing humour and great deep emotion to the role, but Octavia Spencer (who won the Oscar for best supporting actress) was truly sensational, bringing a subtle yet dramatic performance we couldn't forget- one full of sass and personality.
The different personalities of the white females played by Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard and Ahna O'Reilly create an interesting dynamic and all had very likeable performances with amazing chemistry.
Overall, 'The Help' was a beautiful film which was more enjoyable than you'd expect. Filled with humour (probably more laughs here than some bad comedy) as well as emotion, this is a wonderfully moving story filled with hope. With a phenomenal cast which brings the whole movie together with great character, there's no surprise it received three Oscar nominations for cast. Fantastic movie for the family.
I was recommended this film by a colleague who said it had made him cry! I had to find out what was so emotionally moving about this film as I love films that really get you to relate to the characters. I rented this film off Blockbuster but it is available from HMV, Play.com, Amazon.co.uk and the usual film outlets online and offline.
It's quite a recent film as it came out just last year (2011). It's also quite a long film, so I watched it in parts as I don't often have the time to sit down and watch a three hour film! This didn't detract from the enjoyment of the film and I found myself easily picking up the storyline where I left off and really feeling the emotions of the characters.
It is an adaptation of the book by Kathryn Stockett, though shamefully I didn't read the book before seeing the film!
The director is Tate Taylor, who is also an actor. The leading actresses are Emma Stone who played Skeeter, who I hadn't seen before, but have recently seen in "Crazy, Stupid Love" which I will be reviewing shortly; Viola Davis who played Aibileen and has since been in "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" which I have read the book of and will be soon watching the film of, and Octavia Spencer who plays Minny and has also appeared briefly in the Big Bang Theory!
This film is about the racial divide in North America in the 60s. The film is set in Mississippi and the storyline primarily follows the lives of white American journalist Skeeter and black servants Minny and Aibileen.
Skeeter comes fresh from college deciding she wants to write to make a difference somewhere. She sets about on the difficult task of interviewing black servants and gaining perspective of their lives and hardships to publish in a book and effect social change.
Her reason for wanting to do so is her appreciation for the black woman who brought her up as a lifelong family servant, and her outrage at finding that her mother fired the woman who raised her. Her mother is ill and she feels obliged to stay at home with her first and put everything else second. We learn that Skeeter has a distaste for dating idiots and is intensely career minded.
The plot explores the characters of the snooty southern ladies and the submissive servants who toil to keep their homes and families together, often bringing up their children.
There is an element of comedy in the film under the deep issues explored, as the snooty southern ladies finally get their come-uppance and Skeeter dates an idiot and shows him who's boss!
Skeeter experiences hurdles along the way as she finds out how difficult it is to get servants to risk their jobs and livelihoods over speaking out. The dark times are captured in this unwillingness to divulge scandalous information on the parts of the servants, as they know full well the severity of the consequences and the extent of the wrongs in the eyes of the state.
The main reason I enjoyed this film so much was because it both educated me about the history of civil rights in America and engaged me thoroughly with the characters. At the end of the film I wanted to meet the characters and this is how you can tell a good film from a bad film!!
I found the film went into a lot of depth with developing characters and explaining the storyline, which is what makes a good film for me.
From what I know of the history of black rights in the deep south, this film really captures what it was like to be in a life of servitude in this era.
I would describe the film as being a film you could watch without having to concentrate too much, as the lives of the characters are illustrated so convincingly, you don't need to know any background information about the time period. With it's smattering of comedy, it's a real emotional rollercoaster of a film, I laughed and cried at The Help!
I have read a few reviews suggesting how the film lacks historical accuracy and is therefore not the way 1960s America should be portrayed in the film, so for this reason shouldn't be considered a great film. I would say in response to this, and in defence of my four star rating for the film, that it is a light look at servitude in 60s America and a feel good, subtly educational film which can in turn provoke an interest in the history behind the story. The film does not need to be 100% accurate, though of course a little attention to historical detail is always a bonus. I may revise my conclusion on this with a second viewing but for now I will put it down to "poetic licence". For what it's worth, I really enjoyed the film and the purpose of cinema is to entertain!
As the film is recent, it won't be at the lowest price for DVDs yet. The lowest price I have discovered is £7 on asda.com, though you should browse the shops as well and there are probably second hand copies floating about on eBay for less.
Watch this film for a thoughtful take on the era just before social change in the deep south.
I had seen the book of this film at the top of the bestselling list for weeks and weeks but I didn't think that it really sounded like my cup of tea so I didn't buy it. However, I then heard it was being made into a film so I thought that it must have a pretty good story! I don't like to see a film without reading the book so I ordered the book, read it and then eagerly awaited for the films release! I did want to go and see this at the cinema but due to ill health I had to wait until Sky Box Office had it showing. This is a film only review.
The film begins with Aibileen getting up and heading out to work. It is the 1960s and she is a maid for a white family across town. Aibileen knows she is lucky to have a job and she does enjoy it, especially providing childcare for Mae-Mobley who is 2. Her boss, Miss Elizabeth Leefolt is an ok boss - there are others around that are much worse, namely Miss Hilly Holbrook who is one of Miss Leefolt's best friends.
Aibileen's best friend is Minnie. She is a larger than life character who is bubbly and full of joy - on the outside. Her husband, Leroy beats her and Aibileen knows Minnie is scared but cannot leave because of the children. Aibileen herself lives alone. Her son was murdered in a race related attack a couple of years before and she misses him every day.
The white ladies hold Bridge afternoons and when it is time for Miss Leefolt to play host, Aibileen is busy preparing snacks and waiting on the ladies. Elizabeth's friend, Miss Skeeter is home from University but she's not like the other ladies - she doesn't boss any of the maids around and instead talks to them like they are equals. Of course, Skeeter's friends all think this is bizarre. Miss Skeeter begins to show a real interest in Aibileen's work which worries her a little, especially when Miss Skeeter starts to ask questions...what does she want to know and why?
I had extremely high expectations of this film. This was for two reasons, firstly because I found the book absolutely brilliant and enjoyed reading it immensely and secondly because I had waited to see the film for a long time and was very excited about seeing it.
Of course I already knew the main outline of the plot as it was based on the book by Katheryn Stockett. The plot did stick to the book quite well but there were some bits that I felt should have been included but weren't. I understand that with a film time is more limited however, the things they missed out I thought were quite important to the storyline and therefore maybe they should have been included and something else, which I saw as less important missed out in order to retain the runtime.
The plot of the film was interesting and it had a storyline that was set in a period where most people have some knowledge of what things were like as it is a well known piece of history that the segregation of races was still in force in the 1960s. Of course, opinion on this is a whole different story but when you think that was just 50 years ago it's shocking.
The plot flowed really well and there was a clear goal in sight for the majority of the film. However, if you have not read the book the film is not at all predictable and there is lots going on along the way to keep you satisfied. I also liked the sub-plots such as Minnie's new employment.
Aibileen is the main character in the story but Minnie and Miss Skeeter feature heavily too and I am very fond of all of these characters. Minnie is very funny who isn't afraid to tell it how it is which provides lots of light hearted relief throughout the film when things must have not been so happy in real life. Miss Skeeter I loved because she was different. Her friends were all married and living the family life with maids and who saw themselves as superior to the rest of the town, however Miss Skeeter was down to earth, understanding and brave.
The acting in the film is first class. I thought the cast were hand picked perfectly as they portrayed the characters very very well and they actually are how I imagined them when reading the book. The cast all worked well together and there was a great deal of chemistry between friends and of course, enemies which made the film very realistic and a joy to watch.
The film is set in the town of Jackson in America and the set is perfect. It looks very real and although I was aware this was a new film I still saw it as things being uncovered back in the 1960s. I got completely caught up in the film and though I already knew how the ending would pan out I still enjoyed watching it immensely and unravelling the story all over again. When I watched this it had been a few months since I had read the book so although I knew a lot of what was going to happen there were also bits in the plot that I had forgotten about.
I watched this with my partner who was a little sceptical because I'd been raving about how much I had enjoyed the book and wanted to see the film for ages! However, he adored the film just as much as I did. He was hooked to the plot and afterwards commented that he really enjoyed it and thought it was a really strong film.
The Help is certainly one of my favourite books and I thought this adaptation was a very strong effort. The plot is true to the book and although small changes are made, I think it is true to Katheryn Stockett's original ideas.
The film was released in 2011.
The DVD was released in March 2012.
It stars Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain.
It was directed by Tate Taylor.
The film is based on a book of the same name by Kathryn Stockett.
It has a run time of 140 minutes.
Amazon currently have the DVD on sale for £7.97. However, I did see it in Asda a few weeks ago for £7.
One of the best films I have seen in the past year. Interesting, well portrayed from the book and addresses an issue that is rooted in history.
Here is this year's answer to "The Blind Side." A feel-good, audience-pleasing, sweeping film that looks at complex, controversial issues involving white guilt and somehow ends up being the year's most watchable, simple, easy and straightforward films. The only difference is, if any of the cast for "The Help" scores some awards for their performances, similar to what Sandra Bullock managed to swing in 2010, the women of "The Help" would actually deserve some of those shiny statuettes. There is something so wholly pleasing and satisfying about its outcome, how every plot development is a non-manipulative, but moving and often hilarious, convincing one, how all of its characters are paid attention to and taken into consideration when moving forward with its narrative, and how its ensemble of fantastic actresses make us cry, laugh and applaud at everything they do on screen.
The complex issue "The Help" bases itself on is racism, and the idea of hired help in America - or more specifically, the use and treatment of black maids during the sensitive period of Jim Crow Laws with the shockingly popular term "separate but equal" being used to segregate black Americans. We are introduced to several households in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s, not at all too long ago from this day. The hired help, required to cook, clean, shop and raise children for their white, superior bosses, do so to make ends meet. Condescending tone, demeaning gestures and verbal abuse are commonplace, but for the price of earning 95 cents per hour (around 9-10 2010 American dollars), these women work morning, noon and night, in a society that refuses to fully embrace them.
Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) has raised and parted with more than a dozen children. Having lost her own child not too long ago, she finds it ever more painful, and the discrimination she faces in a household she dedicates herself in (she even has a separate toilet because the owners fear they will catch some unknown disease) in unconscionable in our eyes, but she accepts it since she has faced this kind of behaviour every day. Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) is a maid whose frank words and bold attitude refuse to let her employers push her around - she has a reputation for being forward and often difficult, but her cooking skills are unquestionably good. Minny's boss, the evil Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) is a nasty piece of work who poisons her suburban neighbourhood with her snobbish, arrogant words and looks down on the help like they are animals. Seeing the maids' everyday struggle and deciding to do something about this is Eugina "Skeeter" Phelan (Emma Stone), that rare, brave young recent graduate who wishes to write a book chronicling the daily hardship the hired help face. A lot of people around her seem to be ignoring the racial line she so clearly sees, including her own mother, Charlotte (Allison Janney).
Are white people evil for employing black maids? The film is correct in showing us that not everything can be summed up that simply. Sure the character of Hilly Holbrook, the film's main antagonist, is drawn with a hint of comical caricature, but the rest of the cast represents something more complicated, and the white employers are far from hateful. There is a cloud of mystery created as Skeeter discovers her beloved childhood maid, Constantine (the invaluable Cicely Tyson who even in her very short scene delivers something so heart-wrenching), has simply disappeared. Her mother refuses to give her a straight answer. When we finally do see what really happened, it turns into one of the most heart-breaking scenes in the film, with unforgettable performances from Janney, Stone and Tyson, especially. Stone, the rapidly rising American star, takes on a more mature, challenging role here and still shows she has the chops for something even more and in the role of Skeeter, she draws the audience in and makes us interested in her determination for telling the truth, even though her surrounding doesn't make this easy.
Davis, who in supporting roles has been consistently excellent no matter what genre ("Doubt," "Law Abiding Citizen," "Trust,") gives an even more stirring performance as she takes the reins and gives something so powerful and involving in her role of Aibileen. She is always so full of love and is more than committed to her job - she is good at her job, too, as she takes care of those around her with much warmth and compassion. Minny is someone who will generate more laughs. Spencer carries that right mix of tough, no-nonsense woman whilst showing empathy to those she deems deserving. Minny ends up with a new boss, after troubles arise between her and Hilly, and it turns out that Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain) is the polar opposite of Hilly. Celia is a cheerful, but clueless and insecure housewife who is desperate to please her well-off husband. She and Minny bond, and as that unlikely friendship develops, the audience also learns that white people have difficulties of their own, and seeing Spencer lower her defence and open up more and more to someone she never thought would be her "equal" is a change grasped well by the otherwise straight-talking, hilarious Spencer. Chastain, who is having one heck of a year with a long line of impressive performances stacking up to her glowing resume, can count this one in too, as her Celia Foote may seem annoying and over-the-top at first, but as she slowly matures with the support of her trusty maid, Chastain brings out a whole new side to her character, this one more confident but without losing the charm she had previously.
Sure, a lot of material seems to have been condensed down, and there are some silly moments that were created for comedic purposes only - one of this being the priceless scene that Sissy Spacek, playing Hilly's mother, absolutely steals. And it is undeniably too neat - some problems are glossed over, such as domestic abuse and what consequences some of these characters would have faced by participating in Skeeter's book. It is a feel-good movie, which is why everything is so tidy and the director (Tate Taylor) refuses to get his hands dirty. The script is somewhat restricted in its portrayal of a wider community, and can be rushed into tying up the loose ends with a convenient, feel-good set of answers. But the important thing is we empathise with the characters - black or white, discrimination is wrong, and many heart-felt, uplifting scenes show us this and its message could not be clearer.