Monday, July 11, 2011

Movie Review: From Best Seller to Big Screen "The Help" Shines Brightly

One of the best perks about living in a bigger city in the North is the chance to catch advanced screenings of films yet to be released.  It's somewhat ironic that Heather had been waiting all summer to watch a film that is set not far from where she lived in Mississippi.

Based on the best selling book by Kathryn Stockett, The Help tells the story of the deep South at the dawn of the civil rights movement.  Those familiar with Stockett's book will notice a few details changed, but the story remains true and very close to the book's context.  Plus, it's hard to cram in a 451 page novel into a 2 hour, 20 minute movie.

The story line focuses on three Jackson, Mississippi women in the early 1960's.  Ole Miss graduate and Hotty Toddy, 22-year-old Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan (Emma Stone) returns home where she is expected by her mother (Allison Janney) to settle down and find a husband.  She partners with Aibileen (Viola Davis), a wise African-American maid and her sassy best friend and maid Minny (Octavia Spencer) to put a collection of stories together of how "the help" is really treated in the South.  The women's stories intertwine to explain how life in Jackson revolves around the complex relations of power, money, intimacy and emotion tying together black and white families in Jackson.

"Change begins with a whisper" is the tagline for The Help, but it is also a pivotal point in the film as well.  During a bridge game hosted by Elizabeth Leefolt (Ahna O'Reilly), Junior League president Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Skeeter play cards.  Hilly announces she's working on passing a law that would require everyone to build a separate outside bathroom for their help.  Aibileen works as Elizabeth's maid, virtually raising her two-year-old daughter and overhears the conversation.  When Skeeter approaches Aibileen later about the conversation, change starts brewing.

The film certainly gives an accurate portrayal of Mississippi weather.  Throughout the film, the characters appear hot, sweaty and realistically miserable from the notorious heat.  That was dead on, y'all!  Look for several Mississippi landmarks in the background, including the capital building in Jackson.

The racial imbalances of the early 1960's in the South are well illustrated and defined in The Help.  The film narrates how little progress we've made in the last half-century, as well as how far America has evolved during the last 50 years.  A fantastic story combined with suburb acting makes this movie one you won't want to miss (even if you haven't read the book)!

The Help is scheduled to be released nationwide on August, 10, 2011.

Here's a short featurette on the film:

And a look at the trailer: