A fast-talking, eye-rolling snarler, Emma Stone wears a truly terrible perm to play the allegedly dowdy Skeeter, a recent college graduate who returns to her family's Mississippi plantation in the summer of 1962. In her absence, not only have her school friends become the casually, cruelly racist white establishment, but her own beloved childhood maid (Cicely Tyson) has disappeared. Skeeter decides to write about her hometown from the perspective of the black women who work in every white household. Her ins to that world are dutiful maids Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer), whose inability to become wallpaper/a doormat while at work has cost her a few jobs, most recently and spectacularly in the home of the town's coolly despicable queen bee, Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard). To accuse The Help, based on Kathryn Stockett's best-selling novel, of pushing the dreaded Magical Negro button would be a low blow. These women do actually say things like "Fried chicken just tend to make you feel better 'bout life" while pretty blonde women look on, beaming—but they're also victims of fairly realistic character flaws, almost as much as they're victims of circumstance. The Help is plainly a film about how talking becomes writing, which becomes activism, which turns into history. The night Medgar Evers is killed, Aibileen tries to comfort a paranoid Minny: "We ain't doin' civil rights, we just telling stories like they really happened"—a downplaying that rightfully makes her friend laugh.
Stone as tyro journalist.
Opens at Majestic Bay and other theaters, Wed., Aug. 10. Rated PG-13. 137 minutes.