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The Help

Change begins with a whisper...

by Glenn Lovellj (rating: four out of five stars) Part conscience-searing history lesson, part shamelessly manipulative melodrama, Tate Taylor’s adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s best-seller sinks its teeth in early and never lets go. Despite a few glaring missteps — the result mostly of shrinking a novel to feature length — this rewarding ensemble piece is easily the best American film of the year thus far. Yes, it has a pat, old-fashioned feel. Yes, it’s a bit smug in its safe liberal rectitude. Yes, it contains the kind of cathartic, crowd-pleasing moments we remember from “In the Heat of the Night,” “Driving Miss Daisy” and other Oscar-winners about a time when blacks in this country sat at the back of the bus and suffered the daily humiliation of drinking fountains and toilets “For Whites Only.” But don’t let this dissuade you. “The Help” works as both a stinging indictment of Jim Crow segregation and a showcase for several standout performances, most notably by Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard, Allison Janney, and the suddenly everywhere Jessica Chastain (“The Tree of Life,” “The Debt”). We’re in Jackson, Miss., 1962-’63, where segregation is still a stain on the American Dream. In the course of the narrative, news will arrive of the assassinations of two civil-rights standard bearers: Medgar Evers and J.F.K. The focus is on women of different social strata — the uppity, white-gloved women of the Junior League and the quietly disgusted black women who, in a gussied up version of antebellum slavery, serve as their seen-but-not-heard domestics. Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Stone) straddles both groups. She’s a reluctant member of the women’s bridge club led by Hilly Holbrook (Howard), but has no time for either the group’s inane chit-chat or overtly racist treatment of their maids. Do I hear Oscar calling? Expect richly deserved nominations for Davis as the stalwart, quietly rebellious Aibileen, Chastain as the likable outcast Celia, and Spencer as a force-of-nature named Minny, who, in one of the most hilariously crowd-pleasing moment I can remember in a movie, confesses to “a terrible awful.” Official Trailer
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Directed by: 
Tate Taylor
Running Time: 
Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Jessica Chastain, Octavia Spencer, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, Cisely Tyson
Screenplay by: 
Tate Taylor

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