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MovieMike's Movie Reviews (84)

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The Help 
Better Than You Might Think
3.5/4 stars

I have to confess, I really screwed up on this one! I recently was given a copy of the book, ‘The Help’ to read. I had heard it was about black maids dishing on their employers in the very segregated Jackson, Mississippi during the early 60’s. I was delighted to find Kathryn Stockett’s novel to be so much more than just that. Unfortunately, ‘The Help’ debuted at theaters at about the same time so I decided to finish the book first and then take in the film. But as often happens, things came up and the movie slipped off my radar for a bit. Fast-forward to this week and the Mrs. asked if I would like to take this in with her. I thought I had missed it completely!

This is one of those rare cases where the movie is every bit as good as the book – and possibly better. The casting, the direction, the period wardrobes and the bouffant hairstyles all create a mix that is on par with films like ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ or ‘Forrest Gump’. A musical score supplied by Thomas Newman (a personal favorite) is like frosting on the cake. Sophomore director, Tate Taylor manages to take all the key elements of this story and transfer them almost completely intact to the screen, which is a great compliment to his effort. While dropping very little from the book, Taylor manages to deliver this tale in just less than two and a half hours. It may sound a bit long, but felt like a lot less.

The one element that really puts this film in Oscar territory has to be the casting. Emma Stone is perfect as ‘Skeeter’ Phelan, the would-be writer who first proposes getting the maids in her hometown of Jackson to tell their personal stories. Her first mark is Aibileen Clark (a flawless performance by Viola Davis), the maid of a friend in her social circle. Another standout is Octavia Spencer as the feisty Minnie Jackson; a maid who’s cooking ability is only eclipsed by her sass. Added to the mix is Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays Hilly Holbrook, the supposed social center of the group of narrow-minded young white women of Jackson. Think ‘Mean Girls’ on steroids! If there is not an Oscar (or two) among this group, I will be really shocked. Included in the cast are a few Hollywood regulars: Sissy Spacek (as Hilly’s mind-addled Mom), Cicely Tyson as the maid that Skeeter grew up depending on, and Mary Steenburgen as the New York publisher Skeeter is anxious to impress.

The story takes place in the summer and fall of 1963 and uses historical elements of the Civil Rights Movement other national events as its backdrop. Interior and exterior shots have a very authentic feel to them (Clarksdale, Mississippi is the stand-in for 1963 Jackson) and you can almost feel the sweltering Mississippi summer heat roll off the screen. The story is as much heart wrenching, as it is uplifting; mixing a few light laughs with some thought-provoking moments. I was so glad I managed to catch this before it slipped off to DVD-land – and by the looks of the box office performance of ‘The Help’, you’ll probably still have a few weeks to catch this one yourself!

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