The Help: Oppression and Okra
Te Help is the maladroit love child of Remember the Titans and Eat, Pray, Love, conceived during a misguided, drunken romp behind the bushes at a child's birthday party. Would-be journalist Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan (Emma Stone) comes home from college wanting to change the world, but instead finds herself writing a cleaning column in the local daily, playing endless rounds of bridge, and hunting for a husband. After hearing one of her friends insist that black servants use separate bathrooms from their white employers, an incensed Skeeter decides to collect and publish the accounts of the help to shove the intolerance of the white richesse right back in their faces.
The film wants to be a portrait of racism, bigotry, and child neglect in civil rights–era Mississippi. Instead, it is just boring: a litany of social backstabbing played out over two tedious hours. A blond, be-ringleted Stone makes a valiant stab at playing Skeeter, but the character is so ill-formed that even a better actress would have a difficult time sinking her teeth into the role. She somehow manages to be both a rampant idealist—a modern-day liberal arts student pasted into 1960s Mississippi—and completely blind to her role in perpetuating racial stereotypes. Lacking any significant character development, Skeeter wages her minor rebellion out of pure Southern belle–style angst.
The acting of the help, on the other hand, is spot-on: Viola Davis is a deliciously sweaty, unpressed Aibileen Clark, and Octavia Spencer is sassy and spectacular as Minny Jackson. Nor is the movie without touching moments, particularly between Aibileen and the children she's hired to look after.
It's not billed in the credits, but one of the stars of The Help is the food. Tureens of okra, succotash, grits, and biscuits march across the screen like so many civil rights protesters. Every scene merits at least a couple drumsticks' worth of fried chicken. Too bad all the home-style cooking in the South couldn't save this movie from being one big yawn.