The Help (12A)

The ViewBristol Review

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Review byMatthew Turner28/10/2011

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 146 mins

Well made, superbly written and emotionally engaging feel-good drama that's destined for Oscar glory in some form or another thanks to across-the-board terrific performances from a wonderful ensemble cast.

What's it all about?
Directed by Tate Taylor, The Help is based on the best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett and set in the American South in the 1960s. Emma Stone plays Eugenia 'Skeeter' Phelan, a university graduate who returns home to Jackson, Mississippi and is shocked by the way her married friends (each one, like her, raised by an African American maid) treat their domestic help.

After speaking to Aibileen (Viola Davis), a maid who has spent her life raising other people's children, Skeeter hits upon the idea of writing a book compiling the experiences of African American maids and their various mistreatments at the hands of their white employers. Her project gets an added boost when outspoken Minny (Octavia Spencer) agrees to tell her story, but in talking to Minny, Skeeter ruffles the feathers of her ex-employer, snobbish Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), who holds powerful influence over the local ladies and is capable of ostracising her neighbours – such as ditzy Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain AGAIN) - if she deems them lacking in some way.

The Good
The performances are terrific right across the board: Stone is perfectly cast as the kind-hearted Skeeter and Davis (whose character narrates the film) is extremely moving as Aibileen, while the ubiquitous Chastain (swapping her ginger locks for a peroxide blonde wig) is utterly delightful as Celia and almost steals the film. In fact, the only reason she doesn't is that the wonderful Octavia Spencer gets there first, nabbing all the best lines and landing the film's biggest punchline to boot – as a result, she's a shoo-in for a Best Supporting Actress nomination come Oscar time and it's her lines you'll be quoting on the way out of the film.

Having assembled such a terrific cast, Taylor generously ensures that each actress gets a stand-out moment, right down to the smaller parts such as Sissy Spacek (as Hilly's mother) or Allison Janney (as Skeeter's mother). There's also some impressive production design work, coupled with colourful, sun-drenched photography from Stephen Goldblatt and a typically great score from Thomas Newman.

The Great
In addition, the moving, frequently funny script is extremely well written, creating characters you really care about and managing to deliver its message without resorting to sickly sweet sentimentality or becoming too self-congratulatory.

Worth seeing?
Emotionally engaging and frequently funny, The Help is a hugely enjoyable feel-good drama with terrific performances from a talented ensemble cast. Place your Oscar bets now. Highly recommended.

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The Help (12A)
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Content updated: 30/10/2011 09:22

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