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Great actresses deliver ‘The Help’

Director Tate Taylor has managed to pull off the near impossible with "The Help.
/ Source: The Orange County Register

Director Tate Taylor has managed to pull off the near impossible with "The Help." He created a sweet, intelligent and serious movie about racism in the deep South of the '60s and kept the humor that made the book by Kathryn Stockett a best-seller.

To accomplish this, Taylor brought together the strongest female cast in films since "Steel Magnolias."

Emma Stone continues to show she's one of the best young performers working today with her portrayal of Skeeter, a Southern white woman who longs for more than a life of cooking, babies and social meetings. She finds an outlet for creativity by anonymously writing a book about the black women who work for white families as maids, housekeepers, nannies and surrogate parents.

The primary focus is Aibileen, played with Oscar-caliber passion by Viola Davis, and Minny, portrayed by another potential Oscar nominee, Octavia Spencer. The actresses show the pain and pride of black women who worked in an environment where they weren't even allowed to use the family bathrooms.

Davis and Spencer never allow their work to slip into making their characters victims. Taylor shows that while they were victimized by the ignorance of the time, they bent but never broke.

Add strong cameo appearances by Sissy Spacek and Cicely Tyson, who show even the smallest role can be played for great power or humor.

The weak link is Bryce Dallas Howard as the woman who has made herself the moral compass of the community. Howard needed to drive home the insanity of racism, but she instead handles the issue with caution. It means the film's big comedic moment lands a little flat.

But Howard's is the only weak performance. Davis, Spencer and Stone slip into their roles as easy as tying on an apron. Whether they are talking about hope or desperation, each moment resonates with a power that will move you to look at your own views on racism.

There's no bigger compliment for a movie than "it will make audiences think." The more I think about "The Help," the more I see it as a telescopic look at a time and place where racism was seen for its ugliness. Taylor makes this examination a little more palatable through the humor.