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on August 11, 2011
"Oscar season", as it's typically referred to, is a period of time, usually beginning in late November, and ending in late January. This year, it starts early, with "The Help".

"The Help" is based on the well-known novel by Kathryn Stockett, someone who I had never heard of before discovering this film and book. For the most part, when I hear about a film that I want to see, I try to read the book prior to viewing the movie, to enhance the whole experience. Usually I get bored, or stop mid-way through one of these said books, before I end up watching the movie.

But "The Help" grabbed me. Stockett kept me on a leash, dying to know what happened next, and I ended up finishing its 530 pages in a few sittings. And, I'm glad it did, because "The Help" is not only the best movie I've seen this summer, but it very well could be the best one I see all year.

The film centers on Aibileen, Skeeter and Minny (Davis, Stone and Spencer, respectively) three very different women in Mississippi, in the year 1962. Skeeter is returning from college with a journalism degree, whose beloved childhood black maid Constantine has disappeared, and no one will tell her where she has gone. Aibileen is a maid who has raised 17 white children in her life. The word "maid" is pretty blandly used. She's a nanny to these children, if not a surrogate mother. Her outspoken friend Minny has never been able to keep quiet, or, because of this, hold onto a job very long, and she is hired on the sly by Celia (Chastain), a white-trash rich girl who has some grave secrets of her own. Skeeter decides to write a tell-all book of interviews from the maids of Jackson, Mississippi, which, as you could imagine, was a very taboo, and perhaps even illegal thing to take on in the time of Jim Crow, and segregation.

One of the reasons that this film succeeds is that not a single character is miscast, and there is not a single caricature. In the book, Stockett paints a vivid picture of each character, and the actors clearly got lost in their characters. Emma Stone is becoming a very important actress. I haven't seen her in a role that I didn't love her in. After getting her first notable role in 2009's "Zombieland", and then livening and carrying the otherwise bland teen comedy "Easy A", this is her first dramatic role, as Skeeter, one of the lead characters. While she sometimes blends into the background in this movie, she shines beautifully with the rest of the cast. She's definitely one to watch.

While Stone is great, this movie belongs to Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. Davis's Aibileen is perfect. She has a silent sadness about her, a lot of pride, and a great sense of anger, her expressive eyes displaying a silent protest, while never raising her voice the whole film. She handles emotional scenes beautifully, reducing the audience to tears in more than one scene. She's a early in the year front-runner for Best Actress this Oscar season.

Spencer also does a beautiful job as Minny. Octavia Spencer was the original inspiration for the character of Minny, who voiced the character's section in the audio-book. She was clearly made to play this role. She does a lot more for this movie, than just adding comic relief, however, she does plays the comedic side the best. The "terrible awful" that her character does in the book, is made into the funniest thing in the whole movie.

The supporting cast is dead-on too. Bryce Dallas Howard plays the town's snobby ringleader, Hilly. She's absolutely chilling, nailing the evil character. Her mother, played by Sissy Spacek is a hoot. The town's secretive lush, and Minny's boss, Celia, is played by scene-stealing newcomer Jessica Chastain, who wowed earlier this year in "The Tree of Life". She was completely like I envisioned her character in the book. Chastain would be perfect to play Marilyn Monroe. Just saying. There's not enough typing space in this review to describe how much I loved the rest of the supporting cast. Everyone was dead-on.

I was under the assumption that this would be yet another disappointing film of a book loved by many. The reason for this was the director and writer. I had never heard of this Tate Taylor, and because of that, I wasn't sure that I trusted him. He had a large part in making this movie all that it was. One of the big reasons that "The Help" works as a movie is because it feels authentic. It was filmed in Mississippi, where it's based, it is set in the 1960's, and every feeling about the movie hits the right note.

I later discovered that Taylor was a childhood friend of the book's author. Not some Hollywood hack. I forget the many disappointing film adaptations of books I loved that were made by the Hollywood elite. "The Da Vinci Code" by Ron Howard, "Memoirs of a Geisha" by Rob Marshall, "Eat, Pray, Love" by Ryan Murphy. Enough said. After seeing this film, I couldn't imagine anyone better-suited to making the film.

What is special about this film is that it is not what a lot of people will probably write it off as. It's not a film designed to make audiences feel less "white guilt", and it isn't about how black folks need white ones to succeed. It's about good-hearted people wanting to make a change to a world that is unjust. It avoids the usual sentimentality and melodrama that typically plagues this kind of film. I don't know how, but it succeeds in that, like I thought it wouldn't.

While some changes are (intelligently) made from the book, it's almost a scene-for-scene adaptation of the book. Some things are different, because they need to be, and things are a little more concise, yet it's almost like watching an abridged version of the book, onscreen. It will stir up emotions in you that you didn't know you had. At the ending of this film, in a packed house, there was a thunderous applause. Almost everyone in the theater stayed seated through out the ending credits. I cannot remember a time where a movie evoked such emotion from its audience, that it wasn't until after the credits had ended that people actually started walking out. This is gripping stuff. Don't miss it.

Grade: A+
1414 comments315 of 345 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
This is an amazing movie. I just finished watching it a few minutes ago and my emotions are still reacting to it. After hearing a commentator talk about it, I had almost decided not to watch it, but I'm glad I did. I'm old enough to have lived through the time period covered. What I observed as a small child was only the tip of the iceberg. This movie brought out so much more that I just hadn't noticed or thought about. While the movie itself was done in an entertaining manner, I just have a sick feeling. I don't think I'll ever forget some of the scenes.

I recommend the movie, and that's the bottom line.

Years ago I got my first job, downtown, when I was 16 years old. The job was too hard for me and after a couple of days I was let go. As I waited for the bus in the department store lounge with a dozen or so other people, I picked up the phone and called my mom. I could only blurt out the words, "Mom, I lost my job" and just started crying. Nobody else in that room said anything or reacted. A very large black woman jumped out of her chair and just came over and held me while I cried. She kept saying, "Oh, you poor sweet little child. You sweet little angel." That woman was the first black person I had ever been close to, and I immediately loved her. She and her family are still in my prayers today, many years later. Now, after watching this movie, I have so many thoughts about what her life was like back then. She was in the same position as the women in this film. She had to know that I, a little white teenaged girl, had so many more job options than she would ever have, but she took the time to comfort me with everything she had to offer, and it was a great blessing to me.

I'm going to be thinking about The Help for a long time. It hit me right in the gut! What an amazing movie!
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on August 13, 2011
"The Help" works as well as it does because it doesn't offer easy answers. This lovely and sometimes extraordinary film is not concerned with big sermons about clivil rights, religion or easy to swallow messages. The film is simply about behavior; how we should act, morally, towards other people, no matter who they might be. This thematic line is structured nicely throughout the film by zeroing in on a select group of people. This was a smart move since the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s is just too large a subject to truly flesh out in a 2 hour film. Because the film is about actual characters instead of predisposed, prepackaged lessons, the audience can take with them what they choose from the story (none of the characters have a major epiphany, each just starts to become aware of their behavior and effects, both good and bad- they all have so much more life to live). Surprisingly the film rarely gets melodramatic, and when it does it almost seems cheep and easy. Thankfully the films few flaws (structure, pacing, some silly dialogue here and there- "You broke her heart...!") can be overlooked due to the tremendous performances. Each actress is exceptional in their own ways with the wonderful Viola Davis stealing the film. Emma Stone is reliable here as always and proves that she can be funny and carry dramatic weight in the same film. I have always considered Bryce Dallas Howard to be a very accomplished actress and hopefully her scathing, pointed work will be recognized. Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain find a tender chemistry all their own. I have to say that "The Help" really, truly surprised me. I have never read the mega-selling novel from which it's based but I can tell you the film is a beautiful testament to American history and is a great display for some truly fine acting. For those who are turned off by sermonizing, preachy, obnoxious message movies (like myself), "The Help" is far from that. This is a tender film about real emotions and a subject that is rarely discussed in film today.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon August 10, 2011
Now we see this film wins award nominations aplenty. Biggest winner was the public. Leads of Davis and Spencer that stole the spotlight. DVD to own, not rent.
The only drawback with the DVD is the sparse bonus material. 4 min. of 2 deleted, and a 5 min. music video of one of the film's songs. Pathetically weak bonus, but then it is a 5.5 star film. Everyone asks to borrow our copy, I should have bought 2.
Oh yes, there are SUBTITLES.

We attended the opening matinee; we'll view it again, that good. Is `The Help' the soul of 60s era race relations? This worthy film based on Kathryn Stockett's #1 best-seller is equally a first-class view as true for the read. The story of 3 daring Mississippi women is as absorbing as any you'll see this year. The plot is writing a book which attempts to tell the truth about B/W relations in the city of Jackson, between wealthy whites and `the help'; but doing it anonymously. Without being fired or lynched.

There is humor in the way the Jackson Belle socialites operate, and eventually react to the book publication. Bryce Dallas Howard is the personification of Bad Girl, Hilly. Although beautiful, I loathed Hilly in the film and book, as you are supposed to. And Jessica Chastain (Murder on the Orient Express) has all it takes to be the scene stealer while playing Celia. Truly believable!
Humor erupts in how the help secretly reacts to their treatment. There's sadness at some injustice.
Viola Davis plays a slimmer/sexier Aibileen than was my mental image while reading the book. Octavia Spencer is right on as Minny. Both girls pack their roles with perfection.
The film has intrigue through the months of secret interviews.
There's a mystery related to Skeeter's (Emma Stone) own childhood maid's story, which is a larger part of the story in the book.
Skeeter, Aibileen, & Minny are the key book writers. The casting is near perfection. Should be some Oscar nominations someplace.
Some other stars too, like, Sissy Spacek, Cicely Tyson, & Mary Steenburgen (Proposal, Joan of Arcadia).

I remember reading the book and doing it as quickly as possible toward the end; and praying that all the `help' have a happy ending, but expecting some casualties. With the movie, it is evident when the story is climaxing, and then you just wish that you could make it last another hour or two. An excellent story, but then we all knew that from the book.
It is a tribute to the story that you forget it is fiction. How much is real, a docu-drama of the early 1960's of the south (& north)? We need reviews from the real-life `help' of the early 60's. Only they know!

If you view only one film this year...this should be it. See it soon, & as the film's dialogue states, "Before the whole civil rights thing blows over." That line brought a theater audience LOL.
As Aibileen believes, quoted from the book, "We done something brave and good here. And Minny, maybe she don't want a be deprived a any a the things that go along with being brave and good."

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on August 14, 2011
I just came back from the theatre after seeing this incredibly emotional,
humorous, and multi-leveled film performance.
This whole film; from the acting, to the direction,
the writing, EVERYTHING!!---Top of the line all the way!
If this movie doesn't win some Oscars, then I'll know that whole awards thing is BS, pure and simple.
The 9 other reviewers (so far) have all pretty much covered all the bases from every perspective of what
can be said about this film. All I have to say is that "THE HELP", will go down as a modern day classic.
"The Color Purple", "The Secret Life Of Bees", "Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood", "Fried Green Tomatoes"...
This film is definitely in that echelon of films for sure.
Kudos to Viola Davis, Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain...
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on June 14, 2012
I enjoyed the book tremendously and was disappointed in the movie. Some important aspects were lost in the film: the terror that the book authors experience every time they get together at Aibilene's house, the real reason why Constantine was fired, the fact that Hilly turned the toilet-damping incident to her advantage, etc., etc., etc. Instead, saccharine sweetness is added to all relationship and Skeeter is turned into a White savior. I would recommend the book to a friend, but not the film. Too Hollywood. Too happy-ending.
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on August 12, 2011
I laughed to the point of embarrasement. I cried a little too. And in between I fell in love with this movie. Set in Jackson, MS at the cusp of the civil rights movement, this movie delves into the lives of southern women back then. It shows the ugly reality and insidious nature of racism back in that day. But it also shows the real love and friendship between the help and the babies they raise. It also shows a glimpse of what was and was not acceptable choices for women to make with their lives back then. I loved the music, the clothing, the decor, everything seemed very acurate(according to my mother), including the racism in the south. With excellent acting and all of the above, I urge you to go see this movie!
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VINE VOICEon August 18, 2011
Everyone should be able to find something to enjoy about this movie, but you have to grow up in this culture to fully appreciate the nuances of this film. I remember as a child of seven or eight (in the late 50's-though the movie is set in the 60's), beaming with compassionate pride as I handed a mentally challenged, elderly, black man who did lawn work for my grandparents a pair of long johns. My aunt had purchased them for him and they often gave him hand me downs or small items. That day he was poorly dressed and the weather bitterly cold for the South. I remember that his calloused hand felt as cold as stone when he took the clothing from me. Looking back I never questioned that I was told to let him into my grandfathers freezing shed and turn on a tiny space heater so he could undress and put on his new "warm" clothes. Giving him the clothes was saintly, letting him into my grandfather's special domain kindly, letting him into the warm house to dress simply wasn't done. I never knew where he lived but it was as if this cold world was his comfort zone and we were not required to change that.

This movie captures beautifully those kind of condescending social assumptions prevalent in parts of Louisiana and Mississippi. It was an assumption of superiority maintained in innumerable small acts of "kindly" diminishment. I still remember my mother saying that my aunt's maid, who raised her five children, stole socks. However, since she was a good maid my aunt let her "get away with it". I never knew whether this tale was truth born of poverty or the purest fiction driven by a need to enforced the social distance between them. My guess is that she found most of her socks the first time here washing machine was serviced and kept it to herself. In the end, long after her loyal servant was too old to work, she was forever remembered "fondly" as the sock thief. It was as if that made it okay not to wonder what she was living on in retirement.

This assumption of moral superiority is driven home in the film when a young maid who "doesn't know her place yet" asks her rich employers for a loan of $75 dollars so she can send both of her twin sons to college. She offers to work for free until the money is paid back. The woman tells her that won't be working for free because she owes money and "the Lord" intends for her to earn it on her own. She ends my assuring her that one day she will thank her for this moral lesson. In the end the maid finds a ring long lost behind a couch and pawns it. Since no maid should have a ring like that, the authorities are called, the ring traced and maid arrested with no consideration given to the real magnitude of the crime.

The Help, successfully renders southern paternalism with accuracy, sadness, warmth and even humor. The film captures relationships bounded by a lack of any obligation to avoid harm and the assumption that those of the lower social order fully accepted their place and wanted nothing more. Moods simply do not have to be contained by those who have the upper hand and it is more important to be seen as "in control" of another human being than compassionate. We see this in a scene where the young writer's mother fires a servant who has been with them for a lifetime. She does this because a group she is entertaining feel she is not properly "controlling" her servant.

In the end, aside from the young writer, Skeeter, who tells the story, it is the socially ostracized "white trash" homemaker of the group who first breaks with tradition to offer humane treatment to her maid Millie. This is followed by the writer's mother who is ill and perhaps has little to lose at this point. Skeeter leaves to find her fortune far from home, an all too familiar story common to those young people who don't fit the Southern mold. But the story does not end on a sour note. What is won in the end is not the outward freedom which is still decades away, but an inner wealth that leads the audience to applaud the human spirit as the credits role.
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VINE VOICEon August 15, 2011
The Help is the best film I have seen this year. This film is about the examples of accepted racism in the early sixties, but it is also about the friendship between women. I like the way director Tate Taylor deals with both subjects equally well.

There is a very beautiful song included in the movie. It is entitled "The Living Proof". It is performed by R and B singer Mary J. Blige. This is such a moving song about enduring hard times but still having a sense of dignity about life. The soundtrack also includes classic songs by Chubby Checker and Frankie Valli, but the new Blige song is definitely the highlight in regards to the music.

The performances by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are excellent. They are two black maids who both work for white families. They cook, clean and raise other people's children. These maids do their jobs do their jobs with such dignity. I admire these fictional characters. They seem like real people to me. These actresses bring the characters of a novel to life on screen. Emma Stone plays an aspiring writer who documents the experiences of these two women in a book entitled The Help. Bryce Dallas Howard plays a racist white woman. Jessica Chastain plays another white female character with a much softer heart. Sissy Spacek gives the movie a humorous element with her performance. I laughed and cried watching The Help. The Help is an excellent film.
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on March 11, 2012
Reading the book first would definitely be my advice before viewing this movie because with the movie it seems to focus solely on racial tensions and that's honestly not what the book is about. The book is truly about treating people with respect and kindness. There's one line towards the end of the book that sums it up perfectly on page 492 of the book, "Wasn't that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I'd thought." The movie should have concentrated more on the relationships between the women instead of nearly eclipsing that with the circumstances during those times. The circumstances were more of the background of the story, it was the women's attitudes towards one another, their bond, their courage--all of that made the book what it was. The movie merely glossed over those and made the connection between the women nearly obsolete.

I don't expect the writers and directors of films to please everyone with the outcome, but sometimes, like with this movie, it seems they barely even try. When movies like "It's A Wonderful Life" was being adapted into films, script after script was rejected and rewritten before they came up with something satisfactory. Now? It seems they accept the first one simply because it has a beginning and an end and then idiots pat them on the back. All this director did was pull a bunch of lines from the book and arranged them. Not only that, he BUTCHERED some of the secondary plots. I'll give you examples:

1) Octavia Spencer WAS Minny Jackson and Jessica Chastain WAS the Miss Celia I'd pictured. They are both incredible actresses. But their parts were so limited, I felt as though their characters were cheated. The scene when Celia miscarried could have been more intense, so could her meeting with Johnny, but the thing that pissed me off the most was that I believe one of the most VITAL parts of the book were left out of the film. There was a part in the book where Minny tries to protect herself and Celia from a crazy man that came onto their property and in the end Celia is the one that ends up fending the attacker from Minny, basically saving her help's life. It also showed their true relationship--that Celia FELT something for Minny. The part when a doctor had to be called when Celia lost her baby and was hemorrhaging badly and Minny was the one who called him was the actual proof that Minny had once saved her life. Yet, there was no such scene in the movie.

2) Why bother saying that Minny even had an abusive husband in the first place if the idiot writer was just going to act like sitting at a table seeing some food gave her enough courage to leave him? Huh? Really? His point was she'd taught her white boss how to cook so somehow that translated into her taking all of her kids and leaving a man she's been with it seems for probably 20 years and put up with his crap all that time and all of a sudden it's only now sitting at a table looking at good food is going to give her the gumption to go. The sad part is, people don't even scream that this is insulting the audiences' intelligence--everybody seems to be going along with everything this movie is and not saying a thing no matter how ridiculous this film made it seem.

3) Constantine's story in the movie makes little to no sense at all. There are so many vital elements left out of that story it's a shame; and the parts that the writer of the movie put in are simply an embarrassment. The movie just made Constantine's daughter look haughty and disrespectful and that's not how she should've been depicted at all. Lulabelle was Constantine's daughter's name in the book, but apparently in the screen adaption, "Rachel" was somehow more appropriate *shrugs* (As if Mae Mobley didn't sound like a ridiculous name? If you're going to keep a baby named Mae Mobley, why not keep Lulabelle?), but she was just as much a victim of circumstance as any of the other women and she had a reason to be angry as well. She didn't just barge into Charlotte's house for no reason at all. Charlotte's role in the movie was also changed--she was vicious and vindictive when it came to Constantine between the pages of the book and Charlotte really did do her wrong, but we get none of that in the movie.

I'm glad I read the book first because I'm not sure what my reaction would've been had I seen this watered down movie version. Knowing the back story for the characters and their situations was its only saving grace for me. Was the majority of the acting terrific? Yes, it was. Was it shot beautifully? Indeed, it was. Was the script poorly written? I must say, it was.

The real story, the one you find between the pages of the book in which this movie was based on, is ugly and powerful and wonderful all at the same time. It'll make you laugh and cry--and this is coming from someone who didn't even want to read the book at first. The book is about women and their friendships with one another, women and their relationships with their children, women and their relationships with the help they have in their household, women and their relationships with themselves. Race comes secondary when it comes to the real story found in the book. The movie was more flashy than anything with Lafayette from True Blood (don't get me wrong, I love Nelsan Ellis, and he's amazingly talented, but it's almost gimmicky to have certain actors in films nowadays and his part kind of felt that way even though he was flawless). Also the character given to Leslie Jordan (known for his role on Will and Grace as Beverley Leslie) came off that way as well--gimmicky (esp with the cartwheel he did at the Benefit, I believe it was). That character was meant to be a chunky hard around the edges kinda guy, but he was funny.

Most people are screaming that this movie is sooooo great, and it really isn't. It's mediocre at best. The book is truly wonderful.
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