The Help is based on the beloved novel by Kathryn Stockett and tells the story of African-American women working as maids in the Southern US during the civil rights era were viewed, and how they viewed their employers. A young white woman, Skeeter (Emma Stone) sees the world differently to her contemporaries, and sets about writing a story from the point of view of the ‘help’. Skeeter convinces Aibileen (Viola Davis) who has spent her life as a maid and nanny, raising children who are not her own to speak frankly with her; before long, African-American women are telling a white woman their secrets.
The Help is based on an issue that we all know to be true – blatant racism against African-American women, which comes from the society ladies whose homes these women run. Frankly, the level of prejudice in the film is sometimes shocking, but this is what the film is about. The ‘help’ were not allowed to even use the same bathroom as their employers, touch their hands or speak frankly in front of them for fear of losing their jobs, but there was no problem with these women raising their children and cooking their food… Anyway, I digress.
Emma Stone is quickly rising through the ranks to become one of the hottest actresses in Hollywood at the moment, from Easy A and Zombieland to her cameo in Friends With Benefits it seems that this woman can do no wrong. The sad thing is that while her character is a feisty Southern woman who rarely suffers fools, she is more of a vehicle for other characters than a fully rounded character in herself. This movie really belongs to Viola Davis for her portrayal of Aibileen Clark. Aibileen is the model maid, and she takes a lot of convincing to tell her story, but even when she reveals the secrets of the women she works for, Aibileen conducts herself with the utmost dignity; often more dignity than the society women she works for. Bryce Dallas Howard plays the worst of the white women, Hilly Holbrook, and while the character is fairly one dimensional and superficial, she is a great foil to Skeeter and Aibileen. Jessica Chastain carries on her reputation as one of the hardest working women in Hollywood with her role as Celia Foote; a woman who is hated by the rich and powerful, almost as much as her African-American counterparts. Almost unwittingly she contributes to helping the African-American women claim their power through her sympathy for fellow societal outcasts.
While The Help is a fascinating and repellent story, it feels as though the script shied away from some of the real issues of the time. The characters are engaging and their story is definitely one of courage and conviction. The script could have done with being slightly more hard-hitting, however. Granted, this is the story of women and a very slow revolution, but all of the drama and hardship seems to be masked in sass and laughs. Also, at just over two hours, at times the film appears to be dragging its feet.