The Help Review
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Summer wouldn’t be complete without a big book club adaptation. In recent years, films like The Time Traveler’s Wife and Eat Pray Love have attracted crowds of eager book club members, while generally failing to appeal to many others. But the ensemble cast of this year’s big book club release, The Help (based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett), delivers so much more than the usual frothy chick flick.

Emma Stone stars as Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, a southern girl who returns home to 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, after college to care for her ailing mother (Allison Janney). Since she left for college, Skeeter’s childhood friends have become wives and mothers—a new generation of southern society ladies who play bridge and plan charity events while their maids clean their houses, cook their meals, and raise their children. But while her friends want her to settle down with a good husband (and a good maid), Skeeter dreams of becoming a writer.

  
 
Though she manages to get a job writing a cleaning column for The Jackson Journal, Skeeter wants to be a serious writer—so she decides to tell a story that’s never been told before: a story of life in the South, as told by the maids. She struggles to convince her friends’ maids to talk to her—and, as their working conditions get worse, they begin to open up and tell their stories.

The stories these women tell are both heartbreaking and uplifting. They’re stories about racism and inequality, but they’re also stories about friendship and the close bonds between maids and the children they raise. And, every once in a while, they’re stories about some well-deserved revenge on the most heartless of employers. They’re shocking, they’re sad, and they’re often even funny—but, whatever the case, the stories will easily hold your attention through the film’s lengthy runtime.

Of course, even the most captivating stories can feel dry and dull without the right cast—but that’s not a problem here. The Help boasts an extraordinary ensemble cast of actresses—young and old, black and white—who make the frequent transitions from tear-jerking drama to light-hearted comedy look effortless. There are so many noteworthy performances, in fact, that I don’t have room to mention them all.

Each member of the cast brings something memorable to her role—like Octavia Spencer, whose Minny Jackson gives the film its southern sass, or Jessica Chastain, whose ditsy Celia Foote shows a different side of southern women, or Bryce Dallas Howard, whose Hilly Holbrook is pure passive-aggressive evil. But, in the midst of this stellar ensemble cast, Emma Stone still manages to hold her own in a surprisingly dramatic turn. Though she plays the same blunt, no-nonsense character that she’s become known for, she shows a remarkable amount of depth as Skeeter, proving that she’s more than just a comic actress.

The story may not delve too deeply into issues of racism and civil rights, but The Help is a moving and entertaining look inside the lives of southern women of the ‘60s. With its engaging storytelling and its exceptional ensemble cast, it’s sure to attract the attention of more than just the local book club.


Blu-ray Review:
It seems that summer’s feel-good book club adaptation has become fall’s award season hopeful. The Help has garnered plenty of buzz for its award-worthy performances by a remarkable ensemble cast—and if you watch the special features on the film’s Blu-ray release, you might just understand why.

Extras include a surprisingly heartfelt, 23-minute making-of feature, which talks about the development of the story, the Southern homes featured in the film, and the on-set friendships—both the long-time friendships that led to the film and the close friendships that grew from it. Another, shorter, feature, In Their Own Words: A Tribute to the Maids of Mississippi, is a moving conversation with the real women who worked on the plantations of Mississippi.

The film’s special features menu also includes a music video by Mary J. Blige and a handful of deleted scenes (with director introductions). But the real heart and soul of the film can be found in the two featurettes—so, after you watch (or re-watch) this enchanting film, be sure to take a look at the extras, too.

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