Rating: 3 stars out of 5
This overlong adaptation of a best-selling 2009 novel by Kathryn Stockett about race relations in the American South cushions some of the graveness of the era, but it’s a mostly entertaining, palatable picture.
Emma Stone, bearing a Michael Jackson perm, portrays Skeeter, an unmarried, ambitious white woman who wants to write a book from the testimonials of black female housemaids serving in white homes of 60s Jackson, Mississippi.
The maid that helps her get started is Aibileen (Viola Davis), the long-suffering maid of a family, who ropes in best friend, the hot-tempered Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer).
Minny is discharged from the service of the racist Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), but soon finds happiness in entering the service of the bimbotic yet racially colour-blind Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain).
Naturally, Skeeter’s book starts getting the wrong kind of attention, even as tensions rise amongst the two races. Stone does put her great comic timing into play, but while the main focus should appear to be Aibileen and Minny, the film still revolves around Skeeter. There’s lots of time spent on a subplot involving getting Skeeter hitched, but it adds little to the film.
Chastain is obviously having fun in her role as the social outcast Celia, though once again the character isn’t particularly deep or interesting. Ultimately, it’s Davis and Spencer who give the best performances, particularly the spunky Minny. Davis seems a little too resigned to the abuses heaped on her by the circle of perfectly coiffured white women of town.
Undoubtedly, there are some perfectly conceived moments, such as when Minny takes revenge against Hilly. The film also goes along at a good pace, and director Tate Taylor never lets you think about how flat some of the characters are, particularly some of the self-sacrificing maids, such as Skeeter’s saintly old maid Constantin (Cicely Tyson).
Running way past two hours, the film presents a whole bunch of endings, particularly at the expense of arch villain Holly, who gets her just dessert in more ways than one.
The film has the feel of a Clueless comedy exploring the cruel cliques and acceptance as well as a melodrama about overcoming racial prejudice. It's a little too manicured and perfect, like the nails of the snooty whites in the film, but it is a well-made and entertaining morsel, even if it doesn’t go too deep.