We all know what will happen - the preview gives pretty much the entire plot away. Eventually, the maids of
will stand up and grant Skeeter the interviews she wants, and the resulting book, published anonymously, becomes a best seller and creates a scandal. But everything works out for all the “good” people in the movie, while Hilly gets humiliated - again and again and again. Jackson
As I mentioned off the top, the performances in The Help are all quite good. Despite the fact that she has the lead role, Emma Stone has remarkably little to do - she reacts more than drives the plot. Most of the time, she reacts with quiet outrage and disbelief at what she is being told - whether it by the maids, her “friends”, or her mother (Allison Janney). But she does a very good at what she is asked to do. Despite the fact that she is essentially playing a cartoon character racist, Bryce Dallas Howard is excellent as Hilly Holbrook. With her helmet of red hair, and her obsession with appearances and perfection, she fits the role perfectly, and she does an excellent job at being a character you love to hate. Out of the white characters however, the best performance may well belong to Jessica Chastain, who is quietly building up quite a resume with her work here, in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life and the upcoming The Debt (playing a young Helen Mirren). What’s even more impressive is that all of her characters are completely different, and she disappears into the roles. If I hadn’t known it was her, I think I would have spent half the movie trying to figure out who she is was. Here, she plays a woman trying her best to be a good housewife, but it’s made hard because of her numerous miscarriages, her complete lack of ability in the kitchen and the fact that she is outcast among the other housewives because she dared to marry Hilly’s ex-boyfriend who she was still in love with. Her character is obviously modeled after Marilyn Monroe, and Chastain does the role justice. In small roles, Allison Janney and especially Sissy Spacek are quite good.
But the real stars of the movie are Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, as Aibileen and Minny, the two maids who start the whole ball rolling with their bravery. Despite the fact that in many ways The Help is simplistic, these two create realistic, sympathetic and ultimately heartbreaking characters, Many black actresses may have balked at playing a maid - it’s all too old Hollywood Mammy - these two embraced their roles, and made them come to life. The two women are different, nursing different heartbreaks in different ways, but when the movie focuses on them, it is at its best.
Ultimately, I’m not quite sure what to make of The Help. Personally, I think we should have moved beyond simplistic race relations stories like this decades ago, and yet within its own limitations, The Help is an effective film that showcases some great performances. So I guess, if the movie sounds interesting to you, you should probably see it. But if you want something more realistic, than you can skip it.