The fall Oscar nominee season has started early with a little help from "The Help."
Look for a best actress Oscar nomination for Viola Davis ("Doubt") for her extraordinary performance as Aibileen Clark, a thoughtful maid in Jackson, Miss., during the Civil Rights Movement.
There are a number of remarkable performances in the stellar women's ensemble, including Octavia Spencer as Minny, who figures prominently in "The Help," the book of the movie's title, written by Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, played with gamine-eyed determination by Emma Stone ("Crazy, Stupid Love," "Friends With Benefits," "Easy A"), a fledgling author who chronicled the trials and tribulations of Aibileen and other African-American maids in Jackson.
Phelan finds herself up against the town's ruling female gentry, led by Hilly Holbrook, played with prickly snobbery by Bryce Dallas Howard ("Spider-Man 3," "Lady in the Water"), so convincing you really dislike her character.
Also excellent are Allison Janney, Eugenia's mother, who bulldozes her way through her daughter's emotions with scant regard for the consequences; Sissy Spacek, who is a hoot and a half as Hilly's mother; Cicely Tyson, memorably fragile as Constantine, an elderly maid; and Mary Steenburgen as a New York City publishing house editor.
On the other side of the social strata is Celia Foote, played with wonderful abandonment by Jessica Chastain ("The Tree Of Life"), who marries into the world of former plantation aristocracy, but is never left to forget her lower-class origins.
"The Help" recounts life in the Jim Crow south where the only safe place for African-Americans was church on Sunday and then, not always there, either.
It was a volatile time. One day, Medgar Evers was on TV giving a speech. The next day he was dead.
The movie also reminds us of a world when workers were fed up with not making a minimum wage and not getting Social Security.
While the art direction of the movie for the most part accurately depicts the early- to mid-'1960s era, the choice of a hairstyle of ringlets for Eugenia is distracting. Perhaps ironed straight-hair favored by many beatnik and college girls of the time would have been more effective to emphasize her nonconformity.
"The Help" could have used a trim in the editing room, too, as it seems a bit long. Certain scenes could have been eliminated. The scenes with the newspaper editor are inconsequential and a bit off (I write from experience). And why do we need a guy doing somersaults across the dance floor at a country club formal?
Still, director Tate Taylor, an actor who previously directed "Pretty Ugly People" (2008) who wrote the screenplay based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett, keeps things at an even pace, letting the story slowly build. One particular scene, which we won't reveal here, moves the plot a bit faster with a ribald scene that should delight director John Waters.
The screenplay has some nice touches of observational dialogue, for example: "Courage sometimes skips a generation."
"The Help" will be regarded as a minor classic on the order of other southern chick flicks, including "Fried Green Tomatoes," "Steel Magnolias" and "Driving Miss Daisy."
"The Help," MPAA rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13) for thematic material; Genre: Drama; Run Time: 2 hrs. and 17 min.; Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.
Credit Readers Anonymous: "The Help" was filmed in Jackson, Clarksdale and Greenwood. Miss.
Box Office, Aug. 12: "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" continued to rise, No. 1, with $27.5 million, $104.8 million, two weeks, keeping "The Help," opening at No. 2, with $25.5 million for the weekend, and $35.3 million since Aug. 10; "Final Destination 5," opening at No. 3, with $18.4 million; "30 Minutes or Less," opening at No. 5, with $13 million; and "Glee: The 3D Concert Movie," opening at No. 11, with $5.7 million.
4. "The Smurfs," $13.5 million, $101.5 million, three weeks; 6. "Cowboys & Aliens," $7.6 million, $81.5 million, three weeks; 7. "Captain America: The First Avenger," $7.1 million, $156.8 million, four weeks; 8. "Crazy, Stupid, Love," $6.9 million, $55.4 million, three weeks; 9. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2," $6.8 million, $356.9 million, five weeks; 10. "The Change-Up," $6.2 million, $25.8 million, two weeks.
Unreel, Aug. 19:
"One Day, " PG-13: Anne Hathaway stars as a college grad who reunites each July 15 with former college classmate (Jim Sturgess) to see how each is doing.
"Fright Night," R: A teen played by Anton Yelchin thinks his neighbor (Colin Farrell) is a vampire, so he asks a TV show host (David Tennant of TV's "Dr. Who") to investigate.
"Conan the Barbarian," R: Jason Momoa plays the title role as a muscle-bound warrior seeing to avenge his father's murder and the slaughter of his village.
"Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D," PG: Jessica Alba is back in action to battle the Timekeeper (Jeremy Piven).
Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes