Published Aug 11, 2011Once upon a time, not so long ago, in a land far away called Jackson, Mississippi, there lived two groups of people: the princesses and the maids. The princesses were very content. They lived in great big houses, went shopping, played bridge and smoked cigarettes. They had very strict rules that they lived by, but they were happy and things were kept in order.
The maids were not very content. The princesses made them do all the work, including cleaning, cooking and child rearing, which left the maids tired and depressed, with no time for their children. One day, one of the princesses named Skeeter (Emma Stone), who had gone to a prestigious liberal arts college and was the smartest of them all, decided that the maids were being treated unfairly, so she decided to write a book about them, befriending the noblest of the maids, Aibileen (Viola Davis), and eventually getting all the maids to open up about their lives.
Everyone in Jackson was so shocked about how upset the maids were that they decided to work together and help each other so there was no more racism again, ever. The smart princess moved to NYC, where all the smart people go, and everyone lived happily ever after.
Admirable in scope ― seemingly trying to heal the wounds of American history, in dealing with the backwards ideals and rigid social caste of the early '60s South at the tail-end of the Jim Crow-era ― The Help is also often face-palmingly simple-minded, unabashedly sentimental and, at times, shockingly puerile (believe it or not, there is an extended scene of shit-eating in this ostensibly wholesome movie that would make Pasolini blush).
Davis, who lends gravitas to anything she's in, is solid and engaging as the movie's moral centre, while Stone is less successful, never quite confident enough to carry the dramatic weight. The Help is a difficult story painted with broad strokes that's geared more towards placating than challenging its audience. (Buena Vista)