Monday, August 15, 2011

The Help

In 1963 a plucky young woman returns home from college in New York City to her home in Jackson, Mississippi to write a column for the local paper and finds that her beloved maid has been let go by her sickly mother. When visiting with old friends, she discovers that one of them, a nasty busybody, has drafted an initiative that would require all households with colored help to have separate restrooms for them. Both incidents inspire her to write a book about the trials and tribulations of Mississippi maids, a work that could have an inflammatory backlash. Writing anonymously through a New York publisher, she writes the stories of two strong willed and very different maids, and soon more begin to share their stories. "The Maid" is a good intentioned film that is well shot and nicely captures Jackson in the early 60s. Emma Stone is delightful the lead role and Viola Davis brings quiet power to a role that should capture her an Academy Award nomination. Bryce Dallas Howard, Sissy Spacek, Allison Janney, and Mary Steenburgen are great in supporting roles and there is a really sweet subplot involving Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer. While there are several fine elements to the movie, the film lacks a certain dramatic flare and scenes that should have more potency just seem to fizzle. There is also a mawkish phoniness to the picture, and what should have been a more compelling story somehow just isn't.