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'The Help' review: A must-see film filled with powerful performances

Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis in a scene from the from 2011 film, 'The Help.' (Courtesy of Dale Robinette / DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC.)

August 10, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
"The Help," set in Mississippi in 1963 during the civil rights era, tells the stories of black maids who work for white families and help raise their children.

Viola Davis turns in an emotionally charged performance as Aibileen Clark, the first maid willing to share her stories during this turbulent time in history. She gives an incredible performance.

Emma Stone is also terrific as Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, the young woman hoping to help tell their stories about what it's like to work as a maid. At only 22, I'm already convinced she can play pretty much anything.

Playing Charlotte Phelan, Stone's mother, Allison Janney is so good -- sometimes weak, sometimes strong, sometimes funny.

And in a career-defining role, Octavia Spencer is fascinating, flawed, fun and even ferocious as fellow maid Minny Jackson, who also opens up to the young writer.

There is not a bad performance in "The Help" and each character brings something different to the table.

Jessica Chastain, who's outstanding, brings sweetness, sadness and vulnerability. Bryce Dallas Howard is tremendous as a vile woman who has no idea how horrible she is. And Sissy Spacek, as her mother, adds a real spark to the story, she's slightly wicked and superbly wonderful in her supporting role.

Director Tate Taylor and the author of "The Help," Kathryn Stockett, have known each other since they were 5 years old. Taylor hired a lot of people he's worked with in the past because he told me making movies is hard so he wanted to surround himself with a family of friends. And it works!

"The Help" is the best movie I've seen so far this year.