I am a child of the sixties. I came of age during the Summer of Love and being a California native, experienced the civil rights movement from a distance. I marched in Berkeley against the War in Vietnam and always felt a strong sense of the injustice of discrimination. But I never really knew any black persons until I was in college and later as an adult. I was a privileged white boy and only read about what life was like in the South or saw it in the movies.
Although it paints a pretty picture of the ugly face of discrimination, The Help, adapted from the novel by Kathryn Stockett and directed by Tate Taylor, is a moving portrayal of what men and women of color in the South had to endure as hired help for their white rich and middle class employers. The performances hold this film together. Viola Davis as Aibileen performs with a quiet restraint that expresses her pain and heartache. It is indeed an Oscar worthy performance. Blythe Dallas Howard as Hilly is the cheerful villain of the film who you love to hate. As her mother, Sissy Spacek as usual, does an excellent job in her supporting role. I would have loved to have seen more of her as she is one of my favorite actors. Octavia Spencer as Minny, has a spectacularly funny moment in the film I won't spoil in case you haven't read the book. She's sassy and brassy and full of piss and vinegar. I was especially moved by Jessica Chastain, seen most recently in The Tree of Life, as the social pariah, Celia Foote. When Minny gets fired and no one will hire her, Celia hires Minny to help her learn to cook and the two of them create a special relationship unknown to her husband. Mike Vogel as Johnny Foote; hubba hubba. I had to Google him as soon as I got home. This boy is gorgeous. Emma Stone as Skeeter, has some lovely moments especially with her mother, Allison Janney, another one of my favorites. Cicely Tyson is perfect as Constantine who raised Skeeter. She's looking a lot like Miss Jane Pittman these days.
The suburbs of Jackson, Mississippi are showcased as the black women march off to clean, cook and raise the children of their white employers as the black men trim and manicure their lawns and gardens. Several times during this film I was deeply moved by the performances and the horrible indignities the characters had to suffer. I was enlightened.
The film has its flaws and black people have complained about the book not being authentic, that the characters are caricatures of both blacks and whites and the language and dialogue are over the top, but the subject and the performances of The Help transcend all that. Highly recommended. Four out of five stars.