Yes, it gets a bit sentimental. Yes, some 'Ya-Ya Sisterhood' friendship clichés creep in. Yes, it glosses history. But it's also heartfelt, hilarious and the cast is a dream-team topped by Viola Davis.
[The Help] is, in some ways, crude and obvious, but it opens up a broad new swath of experience on the screen, and parts of it are so moving and well acted that any objections to what's second-rate seem to matter less as the movie goes on.
Shot like an inductee in the Hallmark Hall Of Fame, The Help covers an ugly era in superficial gloss that's only punctured by the particulars of Mississippi race law or hiring practices that are a mere hairsbreadth away from slavery.
Both taste and perspective will inform whether viewers will find The Help a revelatory celebration of interracial healing and transcendence, or a patronizing portrait that trivializes those alliances by reducing them to melodrama and facile uplift.
"The Help'' comes out on the losing end of the movies' social history. The best film roles three black women will have all year require one of them to clean Ron Howard's daughter's house. It's self-reinforcing movie imagery.
It serves as an enlightening and deeply affecting exercise in empathy for those who've never considered what life must have been like for African-Americans living with inequality a full century after the Emancipation Proclamation called an end to slavery.