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(Poignant, powerful civil rights story)
To quote an old movie critic's cliché, "If you see no other movie this year..."
So many of our friends have read the best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett and can't wait to see the poignant, powerful story come to life on the big screen. Whether you have read the book or not, "The Help" should go on your "Must See" movie list.
Emma Stone stars as Skeeter, a southern girl from Mississippi who broke the mold by choosing a college degree over marrying and having babies. She returns to her hometown, where she lands a job at the local paper writing a housecleaning advice column.
Moving back in with her parents, she learns that the colored maid who raised her has left, and no one will tell her why. She (and we) doesn't learn the truth until the end of the two and a quarter-hour movie.
Skeeter quickly becomes disturbed over the way the white folks treat their colored servants. While entrusting them with the lives of their young children, they treat them as if they don’t exist, talking about them while they are in the room and insisting that they use the outside bathroom facilities.
Skeeter befriends Aibileen, a hardened, bitter maid (Rhode Island's Viola Davis in an Oscar-winning performance), who slowly and cautiously tells her story, and before long the stories of most of the maids in town.
While there are many poignant moments in the film, it is not without humor, most of it supplied by a hefty, haughty Minny (Octavia Spencer), who is most distrustful of whites, including Skeeter.
Skeeter's former best friend (Bryce Dallas Howard) shows the worst side of the southern belles, leading a campaign to ban coloreds from using their bathrooms (resulting in one of the funniest scenes in the film). We also get a peek at the prejudice shown toward "trailer trash" through the character of Celia (Jessica Chastain), who gets her moment of glory in a satisfying conclusion.
The film reflects the mood and atmosphere of the ’60s, with the ugly incidents of the Civil Rights struggles playing out on their black and white TVs.
The story reminds us of the old Shakespearean plays and Masterpiece Theatre dramas that always included the "Upstairs/Downstairs" theme, with the servants usually coming through as being smarter than the "elite.” We see evidence of this throughout "The Help," but we also see a glimmer of hope.
The role of Skeeter is handled nicely, with the naive white woman not coming through as “The Great White Hope,” but rather as a caring person who seeks to end injustice, not by being a savior but by being a facilitator.
There is a lot to think about in "The Help" and a lot to take away from this wonderful story that is filled with some of the finest acting you will find.
Rated PG-13, with some profanity and aimed at a mature audience. Younger folks who do not know much about the Civil Rights movement should see this movie and talk about it with their parents.