Title: The Help
Directed by: Tate Taylor
Starring: Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer (TV’s ‘Ugly Betty’), Allison Janney, Jessica Chastain (‘The Tree of Life’)
Making a memorable movie that primarily focuses on controversial issues, is based on a successful novel or is directed and written by a newer filmmaker is often hard to accomplish. But making a film that features all three, much like the new comedy-drama ‘The Help,’ is very unusual. The movie, which primarily focuses on the struggles African-Americans faced in the south during the 1960s, is a rare exception. Helmed and scripted by relative newcomer Tate Taylor, who adapted Kathryn Stockett’s hit 2009 novel of the same name, ‘The Help’ certainly leaves viewers wanting to stand up for what’s right.
‘The Help’ chronicles the unlikely interaction between two African-American maids, Aibileen Clark (played by Viola Davis) and Minny Jackson (portrayed by Octavia Spencer), and a young, upper-class white woman, Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (played by Emma Stone), in early-1960s Mississippi. Skeeter returns to her hometown of Jackson after graduating from the University of Mississippi, determined to make a name for herself in the literary world. Upset by how her peers, including Hilly Holbrook (portrayed by Bruce Dallas Howard) and Elizabeth Leefolt (played by Ahna O’Reilly), treat Minny, Aibileen and the rest of the maids, Skeeter secretly writes a book about life from the prospective of “the help.”
DreamWorks Pictures made a wise decision in hiring Taylor to write and direct the film. Taylor was able to effectively capture Stockett’s important theme that Skeeter stood for her beliefs; she didn’t give in to Hilly, Elizabeth and even her mother Charlotte’s (portrayed by Allison Janney) insistence that their maids weren’t worthy of the same rights they received. ‘The Help’ also proves that people don’t have to come from the same background to stand up for what’s right. Skeeter was perfectly happy to give up her place in white society, if it meant she could expose the injustices the African-American community was experiencing.
Stone, who has become known for her comedic roles in such films as ‘Easy A,’ ‘Zombieland’ and ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love,’ gave a memorable performance as Skeeter in ‘The Help.’ She proved her versatility as an actress in the film’s dramatic scenes, showing she was truly sympathetic to the maids’ struggle for equality. Stone didn’t just use the material Taylor provided for her in the script; she drew on her own willpower to prove Skeeter wanted to stand up for what’s right.
‘The Help’ is also memorable in the fact that all of the characters were surprisingly well-developed, even though it featured a large ensemble cast. While the audience is connecting to Skeeter while she persistently pursues her dreams of becoming a writer, they’ll likely also be applauding her determinedness to tell the maids’ stories and see to them obtaining equal rights. Aibileen and Minny are also unique, distinctive characters in their own rights, and perfectly complement Skeeter’s strong, take-charge attitude.
Serious Aibileen, who has cared for 17 children during her life, shows her courage by being the first maid to tell Skeeter her life story. She doesn’t care about the repercussions she may face, if it means improving the lives of all African-American maids. The outspoken Minny readily speaks the truth, and doesn’t think or care about the consequences she or anyone else may face. She wants a better life for her and her children, and doesn’t care who she insults, if it means getting what she wants.
While many film adaptations of books aren’t as emotionally touching, and don’t feature as many in-depth characters and themes, as their source material, Taylor definitely stayed true to Stockett’s novel. Combining the important theme that people’s equality is more important than other people’s opinions with memorable characters, ‘The Help’ will certainly support Taylor and Stone’s thriving careers.
Written by: Karen Benardello