#292/ 365 – ‘The Help′ – 146 mins
Cinema Challenge #114 / 115
Set in Mississippi during the 1960s, Skeeter (Emma Stone) is a southern society girl who returns from college determined to become a writer, but turns her friends’ lives — and a Mississippi town — upside down when she decides to interview the black women who have spent their lives taking care of prominent southern families. Aibileen (Viola Davis), Skeeter’s best friend’s housekeeper, is the first to open up — to the dismay of her friends in the tight-knit black community. Despite Skeeter’s life-long friendships hanging in the balance, she and Aibileen continue their collaboration and soon more women come forward to tell their stories — and as it turns out, they have a lot to say. Along the way, unlikely friendships are forged and a new sisterhood emerges, but not before everyone in town has a thing or two to say themselves when they become unwittingly — and unwillingly — caught up in the changing times.
One great reason among others to see this adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel which not only depicts the story of divisions, most specifically in terms of race, but also divisions in class and gender, is its tremendous ensemble cast. Emma Stone gives a measured and mature performance as Skeeter, a departure from her normal bubbly rom-com roles. Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis are just pleasure to watch. Fine support comes from Alison Janney, Sissy Spacek and especially Jessica Chastain (who along with The Help, The Debt and three other movies appears to be the years busiest actress) gives a funny and moving, almost Monroe-esque performance as Celia, the ditzy blonde who pines for a place within the wives hierarchy.
But The Help arguably belongs in the hands of Bryce Dallas Howard, who steals scenes throughout as the despicably unpleasant yet completely watchable toilet obsessed super-bitch Hilly, a character who appears without conscious and soul.
Whilst The Help doesn’t break any new ground in its civil rights story that Hollywood has a long history of telling, ‘Mississippi Burning’ to name among a few. Yet there is a fire within its characters that creates a tremendous emotional epic which will warm the coldest of hearts with some complex pain.