| The first solid candidate to emerge as an Academy Award nominee for Best Picture is this drama written for the screen and directed by Tate Taylor based on the beloved super-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett.
It is no coincidence that Taylor and Stockett have been friends since they were 5 years old in Jackson, Miss. Taylor does the book justice by pitch perfect casting and condensing the narrative down to its essence in 137 minutes.
The story is set in Jackson in the early 1960s where the Jim Crow rules dictate accepted segregated behavior between races and the Civil Rights movement is in its infancy.
The catalyst for change in the social order is 23-year-old Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone from “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and “Easy A”), a recent Ole Miss graduate. Her friends Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard from “Spider-Man 3” and “The Village”) and Elizabeth Leefolt (Ahna O’Reilly) have beat her to the altar and are busy making babies. The rest of the domestic chores are handled by their black maids.
Skeeter rebels against the pressure put on her by her mother, Charlotte (Allison Janney from “The West Wing” and “Hairspray”), to find a husband and raise a family of her own. She is determined to carve out a career in journalism. She is encouraged to get some writing experience by Elaine Stein (Oscar winner Mary Steenburgen from “The Proposal,” “Ragtime” and “Melvin and Howard”), the senior editor at Harper & Row Publishers in New York City.
Skeeter is hired by the Jackson Journal to write the Miss Myrna column that gives readers advice on domestic maintenance. Since Skeeter doesn’t know the first thing about cleaning, she turns to Elizabeth’s maid Aibileen Clark (Tony winner and Oscar nominee Viola Davis from “Doubt” and “Eat Pray Love”) for help. They form a friendship and come up with a groundbreaking book idea requiring courage, bravery and guts. Aibileen and 11 other tightly knit black housekeepers will relate to Skeeter their personal stories working for prominent white employers.
Skeeter recalls being raised by Constantine (living legend Cicely Tyson) and questions her mother about their lifelong maid’s dismissal.
Aibileen’s best friend is Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer). She is the best cook in the bunch and has a sassy attitude. She initially works for Hilly’s mother Missus Walters (Oscar winner Sissy Spacek). Hilly fires Minny for using a bathroom in the house. Hilly rules the roost in the community by serving as president of the Junior League. Her bright idea is the Home Health Sanitation Initiative requiring every house to have a separate toilet for the colored help.
Minny gets a new job as the maid to Celia Rae Foote (Jessica Chastain), who is treated as a social outcast. Her husband, Johnny (Mike Vogel), dumped Hilly and married this country bumpkin. Minny teaches Celia how to cook Johnny’s favorite dishes. Minny and Celia develop a bond of friendship where skin color is not a factor.
This deeply moving story is equal parts funny and sad. It is an important movie about how far we have come and how much further we have to go to put an end to racial discrimination. The messages of tolerance, freedom of expression and the truth setting an individual free all ring loud and clear.
There are not enough superlatives to describe the best ensemble acting of the year. Davis stands out serving as narrator and the engine that makes everything run smoothly. She deserves a leading actress Oscar nomination. The chemistry is unmistakable whenever Davis graciously shares the screen with her fellow actresses. She has the ability to make everybody shine with elevated performances.
The supporting work by Spencer and Chastain playing off each other puts them neck-and-neck in a league of their own for year-end honors. Spacek makes the most of a small part and delivers all of the best lines. Stone’s star in Hollywood continues to rise with a solid turn. She is the fearless dynamic force willing to cross the line and get the ball rolling. You will get goose bumps watching Tyson and Janney strut their stuff.
The cinematography, costumes, interior designs and musical score from composer Thomas Newman are top drawer.
You need to have a supply of tissues handy, because tears will readily flow.
This uplifting, crowd-pleasing movie gets my highest endorsement, but I encourage you to read the book for more insight into the characters, the subplots and the bounty of riches from the meticulous details.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"