The Help

Directors: Tate Taylor
Starring: Viola Davis
Runtime: 146 minutes
Rating: ****

Based on the popular novel by Kathryn Stockett, The Help crafts a delicate balance between a poignant look at racism in 1960s Mississippi and a selection of comic anecdotes. It tells the stories of a dozen black maids, delving into their complex relationships with white mistresses via sympathetic society girl Skeeter Phelan’s attempts to break into journalism.

This performance by Emma Stone is probably the weakest of the cast compared to the stunning turns by Viola Davis, as Aibileen, and Octavia Spencer as Minny (pictured). Jessica Chastain and Bryce Dallas Howard also provide wonderfully wacky characters. While some have criticised the film for taking too shallow an approach to the race issue by making these latter white characters look more ridiculous than cruel, The Help still provides a distressing look at how people’s lives can be closely intertwined and yet completely different.

For once, men have little screen time, and the emphasis is thoroughly on the female experience; the dominant role of the woman in the home sphere is perfectly personified by one husband decisively leaving the room when his maid asks for a small loan to send her boys to college.

Overall, the film weaves its tales of trauma and triumph together fairly successfully, producing a plethora of emotions in the viewer as they watch an unlikely friendship unfold following the hardships of miscarriages and domestic abuse. One cannot fail to be touched as podgy toddler Mae Mobley Leefolt bangs on the window, screaming as her beloved maid Aibi leaves her mama’s house