The Help

Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis play two maids in 1960s Mississippi who are courageous enough to tell stories from the hire help’s point of view in “The Help.”

Courtesy of Dreamworks

This is the story of two movies. One, “The Help,” retained its status as the nation’s number one box office draw thanks to good word of mouth.

The other, “Apollo 18,” will be lucky to stay in the top 10 for much longer because of mediocre word of mouth. That’s a shame because the space thriller has some good things going for it.

But first, let’s talk about “The Help.” The story takes place in 1960s Mississippi, at the dawn of the civil rights movement. Three women dare to speak out about prejudice and injustice. Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter (Emma Stone) has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss and her mother won’t be happy till she finds a husband.

Aibileen (Viola Davis), a wise African-American maid and caretaker, suffers after the loss of her own child. And Minny (Octavia Spencer), Aibileen’s sassy best friend and the town’s best cook, struggles to find and hold a job. Skeeter aspires to become a writer.

She lands a job with the local paper writing about household tips, and seeks advice from the African-American women who clean homes for her friends. That’s when she realizes the greater story is that of the hired help, the women who have to raise a white family’s children rather than their own.

Her problem is getting the women to talk. Given the racial inequities, the women could be arrested for talking to Skeeter, and Skeeter could face jail time for writing their stories. The movie is wonderful for so many reasons.

There are the remarkable performances by Stone, Davis and Spencer as well as a remarkable supporting cast. Of the latter, Jessica Chastain stands out as the unpretentious and voluptuous Celia. She brings light and energy to all her scenes. But it’s Kathryn Stockett’s rich story and strong characters that drive the film and its popularity.

The women are warm, kind, talented and caring. They are willing to fight for what they feel is right. Like Mark Twain’s approach to the Old South, the stories take is sometimes light and frothy despite its tough subject-matter. Even so, you care for these people and you root for them. And, that’s just good story-telling.

The film is rated PG-13 for thematic material. Running time: 137 minutes.

I also cared for the characters in “Apollo 18,” three astronauts sent on a hush-hush mission to the moon in 1973, after the last official manned mission.

The premise is the film is made of the “actual footage” that the astronauts captured on that mission. The “found footage” looks good. Its handheld quality and sharp cuts add to the realism it allegedly represents.

Sadly, it offers some of the only action in the film, which moved much too slowly for me. I was ready to leave after the first half-hour.

The film is rated PG-13 for suspense and some violent images. Running time: 88 minutes.

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