‘The Help’ works with sharp humor, excellent acting

Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis in "The Help" Skeeter (Emma Stone), left, befriends “The Help” — Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer) and Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) — so she can write an expose on the snooty, racist white women in a Southern town during the Civil Rights era.

Set in Mississippi during the violent Civil Rights era, “The Help” uses lots of crisp humor and sharply drawn, well-cast characters to empathize with the plight of black women working as house servants for self-centered, racist white women.

Tate Taylor’s movie, based on Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel, focuses on a white, wannabe journalist named Skeeter (played by Emma Stone) who interviews these black women and records their revealing, personal stories in an anonymously written book titled “The Help.”

It doesn’t actually change anything, but it apparently makes everyone feel better.

Adopting a light, comic approach laced with serious turns (“Steel Magnolias” comes to mind), “The Help” comes dangerously close to becoming another one of those white savior movies in which a noble and just white character selflessly fights for the rights and dignity of minorities unable to help themselves.

Here, the black women are quite adept at survival tactics to get through the daily injustices heaped upon them by the South’s continuing slave culture and the childish behavior of their employers, socially elite white ladies.

Although Skeeter serves as the main character who draws together the unheard stories of the invisible help, the real hero is Aibileen Clark, a black woman who puts her income and safety on the line to tell Skeeter the truth about her life and the insensitivity of the Southern culture. (Read more…)

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