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REVIEW: 'The Help' Stands Out As Summer's Strongest Drama

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Skeeter (Emma Stone), Minnie (Octavia Spencer) and Aibilene (Viola Davis)DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Based on the acclaimed international best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett, “The Help” is the summer’s first drama with its focus squarely on the Oscars.

Set at the dawn of the civil rights movement, “The Help” is told from the point of view of the hired maids to affluent white southern families.

What unfolds are sometimes sad, sometimes frightening and often funny character studies of both the African American housekeepers and their white employers.

The film opens with Skeeter Phelan, played by rising star Emma Stone (“Crazy, Stupid Love”), returning to her hometown of Jackson, Mississippi after four years of college to see first-hand the inhumanity of the Jim Crow laws of the time. Skeeter embarks on a journey to tell the untold stories of the town’s maid-boss relationships in a book called “The Help.”

What makes “The Help” so dynamic is that the film could easily rely on stereotypes to get its major points across, but writer/director Tate Taylor instead provides nuanced and multidimensional characters. The film is neither condescending to its audience nor does it simplify the emotions and actions on both sides.

Already generating some serious Oscar buzz with juicy roles for its stars, “The Help” is a dream gig for the actors in the film. And they don’t disappoint. Viola Davis (“Doubt”) and the feisty Octavia Spencer (“Dinner for Schmucks”) give the performances of their careers.

Davis is especially powerful as the emotionally repressed Aibileen Clark, while Bryce Dallas Howard (“The Village”) is chilling as the racist town belle who stealthily tries to silence and suppress the African American women.

Emma Stone’s young idealist Skeeter is yet another role for the actress that will give her a fast-pass to future Oscar-bait roles.

The supporting cast is just as strong with Jessica Chastain (“Tree of Life”) as the flaky, yet utterly human Celia Foote and Allison Janney (“The West Wing”) as the emotionally and morally torn mother to Emma Stone’s character.

Tucked away in the middle of the explosive summer blockbuster season, “The Help” may be overshadowed by machines, blue critters, cowboys and aliens, but that is not to say this movie does not have the chops to hold its own as a standout hit.

5 out of 5 stars

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