The Help introduces us to three spritely ladies in 1960s civil-rights-era Mississippi: recent college graduate and wanna-be writer Skeeter (Emma Stone), Aibileen (Viola Davis), an African-American maid who’s been documenting her life since the death of her son and Abilene’s best friend, Minny (Octavia Spencer), a feisty maid who pushes the segregation boundaries. The rumblings of change are about to disrupt all three of their lives.
Skeeter lands a job as a household tips columnist but is thirsting to write something meaningful. Maintaining her friendship with her best friend, Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard), is becoming more challenging, as Hilly is increasingly cruel and pushy. Charlotte (Allison Janney), Skeeter’s mother, is worried about Skeeter’s single status. Skeeter quietly begins a writing project from the perspective of “the help.” Her clandestine meetings with Aibileen yield disturbing tales about what really happens in Elizabeth Leefolt’s (Ahna O'Reilly) house while Aibileen is raising Elizabeth’s girl, Mae Mobley.
Skeeter’s writing yields interest from a New York editor but she’s pushing Skeeter for content sooner than she can get the help (besides Aibileen) to open up. They’re reluctant for fear of retribution and losing their jobs. Can Skeeter get the information needed to bring to light the ugly tales of segregation?
Minny is fired after using the “whites-only” toilet at Hilly’s house. She goes to work for the black sheep of the community, Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain), who has been trying to break into the Southern belle bridge clique after getting knocked up by and marrying Johnny (Mike Vogel), Hilly’s ex-boyfriend. Minny gets her revenge on Hilly for firing her. It will have you rethinking pie. Minny and Celia make a funny duo. They do a lot of cooking and talking. As an aside, corn pone is mentioned a lot. I had never heard of it and had to look it up (it’s an eggless cornbread typically fried).
The Help is enjoyable. Stone, Davis and Spencer are standouts. The rest of the actors are excellent. If you like it, you might consider reading “The Help,” the 2009 novel the movie is based upon by Kathryn Stockett.
Screenplay writer/Director: Tate Taylor
Run time: 145 minutes