Established May 2010.

Gordie: Do you think I'm weird?
Chris: Definitely.
Gordie: No man, seriously. Am I weird?
Chris: Yeah, but so what? Everybody's weird.

Film Critic for Twin Cities Live

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Movie Review: THE HELP

One of the most highly anticipated movies of this summer is The Help. It's based on novel by Kathryn Stockett that has been controversial, popular, and on numerous book club lists. I am currently reading the novel and am a little over half-way through. I will try to judge the movie on it's own merits and not compare it to the book. One that's read the book can't help but think of it as you watch the movie. What did they change, what did they cut out? I won't get into that for this review.

Director: Tate Taylor
Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Sissy Spacek, Allison Janney

Based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett, The Help takes place in Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement. It tells the story of three women risking their lives to change the world. Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan (Stone) has recently graduated from Ole Miss and is back home. She's an aspiring writer who has gotten a job working for the Jackson Journal writing for the Miss Myrna column. Miss Myrna is an advice column on cleaning, cooking, and other household jobs. Even though she has no idea how to answer any of the questions posed to Miss Myra, she takes the job. She seeks the help of Aibileen (Davis), the maid of one of her friends. After sending in her resume for a job with Harper & Row, she is rejected after failing to write about a subject that was original and had some ummph to it.

Skeeter's social group involves Hilly Holbrook (Howard). Hilly is one devout girl who believes in the separation between the white people of the town and the black people. Hilly is snotty, rude, and judgmental. She is planning an initiative in the town to have all homes include a separate bathroom for the maids to use. Minny (Spencer) is the sassy no-nonsense maid who had to deal with Hilly's attitude. After an incident using the bathroom, Minny is fired and vows to get back at Hilly. Boy, does she ever get back at her too.

Skeeter's relationship with Aibileen grows as they do the Miss Myrna columns. After hearing and seeing the prejudice of the other ladies in the social groups, Skeeter comes up with the perfect idea for Harper & Row. She will write a book about what it's like to be a black maid in the south raising and working for white people. She asks Aibileen if she can interview her to get real life accounts and stories. Knowing it is a very risky move, they use different names and keep the project very hush hush. They are able to convince Minny to tell her stories. Harper & Row loves the idea, but tells Skeeter she needs to finish the book as soon as possible as the Civil Rights Movement is gaining speed and she needs to have more stories than just the two she has already. Skeeter's book gets published, and she is credited as "anonymous". The book is flying off the shelves due to it's scandalous nature. Hilly and the other girls are furious. They know Skeeter wrote it and now the town knows about their vicious treatment of the help. The book does wonders and opens the eyes and minds of the community.

The Help is a strong movie with an important message. It successfully tells the story and delivers the message without beating you over the head. Its use of humor with strong, realistic characters keeps it grounded and not bogged down. This has one of the best ensembles in any movie this year. The acting is terrific all around. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are stunning. Viola Davis is part of the "less is more" acting school. She is convincing and knocks you out without being overly dramatic. She makes subtle and realistic choices that just hit a nerve in me. Bryce Dallas Howard won me over with her portrayal of Hilly. She makes Hilly a villain you love to hate. In the smaller role of Celia Foote, Jessica Chastain is a knock-out. Celia is a bombshell blonde that hires Minny to teach her how to cook and clean to impress her husband all while being shut out by the social group. I could go on and on about each actress and actor in the movie. After the movie ended, the audience applauded. You just don't see that too often anymore.

Rating: **** 1/2 (4.5 out of 5)

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