"Did you know growing up that one day you would be a maid?"
"Yes ma'am, I did..."
The Help tells the story of a courageous young writer, Skeeter (Emma Stone), who pens a tell-all book about the treatment of African American maids in white households. Set in the Sixties in Jackson, Mississippi, the film is based on the bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett, a semi-autobiographical account of some of her childhood experiences.
With the help of Jackson's maids, Aibileen (Davis) and Minny (Spencer) in particular, Skeeter interviews and uncovers the truth about how they are treated, complete with scathing stories about the white locals. Spurred on by the chance of a publishing deal in New York, Skeeter has to keep the book a secret, but her family, friends and boyfriend soon turn against her and her passion for justice and equality.
The Help is feelgood and easy to watch, with a much stronger story than other films of its kind. Viola Davis puts in a heartfelt performance as the tired and overworked Aibileen, further proving her talent as an Oscar nominated actress (2009's Doubt). The character of Skeeter is loveable, if a little goofy at times, but it's great to see Emma Stone in a serious role which she pulls off almost brilliantly. Being a naturally playful and comedic actress is a hard tag to lose, but she does.
Vicious and deceitful Hilly is played by Bryce Dallas Howard in a standout performance in which she inhabits her narrow-minded, upper class character scarily well. Octavia Spencer, meanwhile, comes with buckets of attitude as Minny, and also delivers most of the punchlines.
With the trail of Sixties-inspired fashion blazed by Mad Men and movies like Walk the Line, the costumes and hair are a visual delight, though Stone's ringlets are distracting throughout.
If you take nothing else away from The Help, it's a story about female friendship and empowerment. If you at least come for that concept, you will stay for the laughs and the heartwarming experiences of the defiant underdog.