Based on the wildly successful book by Kathryn Stockett, set in Jackson, Mississippi during the height of the Jim Crow laws, The Help tells the enthralling story of the lives of African-American serving women and their bratty, young, Caucasian socialite employees. When bookish Skeeter Phelan (played by the spunky Emma Stone) returns home from college, she gets a job writing a cleaning column for the Jackson Journal. Skeeter knows nothing about cleaning, so she turns to her friend Aibileen (Viola Davis), a serving woman and a friend of her own nanny Constantine (Cicely Tyson). It is through the conversations Skeeter has with Aibileen that she decides to write a book about the lives of the maids in Jackson.
The film is somewhat centered around racism and the utter disrespect the white characters, namely Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard), Elizabeth (Ahna O’Reilly), and Jolene (Anna Camp) show their maids who do virtually everything for these women: the cooking, the cleaning, and the child rearing. These women were raised by these maids, and yet still treat them with disdain that borders on the ridiculous. That doesn’t stop the maids from treating their employers’ children with exponentially more love and affection than their own mothers do. Scenes involving Aibileen’s mantra of “You is smart. You is kind. You is important,” are often tearjerkers.
That’s not to say that The Help is a preachy, overly dramatic film. It is riddled with laugh out loud subplots and one-liners, such as the extremely memorable “Minny don’t burn chicken,” delivered by the delightful Octavia Spencer. Jessica Chastain delivers some level of comic relief as a Marilyn Monroe-esque, can’t-do-anything-right outcast with a white trash reputation, Celia Foote. But, ultimately, even she becomes a deep, three-dimensional character that viewers can connect with, as all of the characters are.
The acting in this film is incredible. The ensemble cast does a fantastic job working together and portraying their characters like real human beings rather than caricatures.
The Help is thoroughly entertaining and manages to teach great messages without ever turning “preachy”. A film with this much heart doesn’t come around all that often, and when it does, everyone should take advantage of it. It’s an absolute delight for people of all ages. The Help spoke to me in a way that few films do, and I think it speaks something a little different to everyone. It is well worth the money spent to see it, and I’m sure some, like me, will want to see it multiple times. It is really a joy of a film and I cannot recommend it highly enough!