Grade: C +
Director: Tate Taylor
Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain, Sissy Spacek and Allison Janney
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hr. 17 min.
The mostly female inhabitants of The Help, a melodrama set during early 1960s Jackson, Miss., largely resemble stock Crisco-caked caricatures. The local Stepford housewives, led by Junior League harpy Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), scarcely leave time for anything else when not constantly and cruelly degrading their saintly African American maids. Enter ‘Skeeter’ Phelan (Emma Stone), an aspiring author who departs from her fellow well-to-do debs to pen a book chronicling the lives of Jackson’s subjugated underclass.
Adapted from Kathryn Stockett’s Oprah-endorsed novel of the same name, the familiar story arc follows the spiritual emancipation of our heroines and the inevitable comeuppance of their antagonists, together with a throwaway romantic interlude whose only apparent purpose is proving Skeeter’s not a lesbian.
Still, the film illuminates the ways indentured servitude persisted 100 after slavery. Writer-director Tate Taylor’s bland staging is offset by spirited performances from the indomitable Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer as silent servants who find their voice along this flashpoint between Jim Crow and America’s impending counterculture movement.