It’s no Mississippi Burning, that’s for sure. Rather, The Help unravels a very serious chapter in American history with a safe, often sweet approach. Well, except for dangerous use of baked goods.
If you’ve read Kathryn Stockett’s novel, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, trust me, it’s a surprise best left unspoiled.
The story focuses on a small group of households in Jacksonville, Miss. in the 1960s. Skeeter (Emma Stone), a wannabe writer just home from college, opens her eyes to a very divided town; her social circle, a bunch of young women, marry as soon as they can and raise children or, to be fair, have their children raised by the black women who work for them.
The first help we meet is Aibileen (Viola Davis), a housekeeper who is used to being treated dismissively by the well-to-do white families who employ her. She’s currently ‘raising’ her 17th child, an adorable little girl that her mother (Ahna O’Reilly) barely comes near. Aibileen’s friend Minny (Octavia Spencer) works for Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard), a housewife with so little respect for The Help that she institutes a “health sanitation initiative,” forcing white families to build separate bathrooms for black workers.
Skeeter lands a job at a local newspaper writing a housecleaning column. Not overly overdosed on information in that area, she approaches Aibileen for some tips. And from there, the idea to write about The Help’s world from their perspective — their lives, their hurdles, the families they’ve been forced to raise while being absent from their own — is born.
The Help is stacked with great performances. Honestly, there isn’t a bad one in the bunch. Now, could the film have used a little more edge? Maybe. But then, maybe it’s a good thing that it is loaded with good intentions. Save for the aforementioned baked goods, all ages could safely see The Help and get a noble civil rights lesson.
Out of a possible five stars, I’ll give The Help a four. The feature is currently playing at the Pen Mar Cinema Centre in Penticton.
Jason Armstrong is a movie reviewer living in the Okanagan.