Authors: Carmen Cox
(NEW YORK) -- It’s 1963 in Jackson, Mississippi and Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan has just returned from college. To the chagrin of her mother and friends, Skeeter forsakes the Jackson feminine ideal of marriage and homemaking for a career in journalism.
Skeeter also can’t help but notice how poorly her friends treat their African-American maids, most of whom were raised by the women they now treat as second-class citizens. It inspires her to write a book about these women and how they’ve been mistreated. Conceptually, a brilliant idea. Realistically, seemingly impossible, given that the backward racists laws of 1963 Mississippi practically outlaw interracial fraternizing.
Enter Viola Davis’ Aibileen Clark, a maid who has “been raising white babies all her life,” as she says. Clearly terrified of what might happen if she's discovered helping a white woman with anything other than maid services, Aibileen rejects Skeeter’s idea…but a proud woman can only be pushed so far before a need to take action rises within. Participating in Skeeter’s project will become cathartic, therapeutic and social justice.
The Help is an outstanding piece of ensemble filmmaking, with Bryce Dallas Howard and Octavia Spencer delivering timeless performances that will keep them on every casting agent’s short list. Of course, there’s also Emma Stone, who's currently enjoying the kind of career Lindsay Lohan might've had. Stone is a force to be reckoned with -- whether she’s doing teen comedy, romantic comedy or straight-up drama -- exuding an earnest charm and warmth that can't be taught.
Then there’s Viola Davis as Aibileen. Just a quick glance into her eyes and you instantly feel the pain of the generations of African-American women that came before her. If Davis can earn an Oscar nomination for her very brief appearance in Doubt, she should win an Oscar for The Help. She is simply phenomenal.
The Help is a jaw-dropping meditation delivered with precision and a sobering realism that will stay with you long after you leave the movie theater.
Four-and-a-half out of five stars.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio