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'The Help' needs some

"The Help" is one of the most wildly frustrating movies I have ever seen. For one thing, I've seen it before. The basic plot is almost as old as movies itself. The film is based on a beloved book that I could not finish because I dislike reading dialect. So, right away, I didn't go into the movie with high hopes.

Spunky Southern girl Skeeter (Emma Stone) returns from school and is (rather naively) shocked to find vicious prejudice among her old school friends. She is especially distressed at the cruel, dismissive and condescending manner all her friends treat their maids, women who have raised them lovingly. Despite risking her reputation, Skeeter -- who wants to be a writer -- enlists the aid of soulful-eyed Aibileen (Viola Davis) and smart-talking Minny (Octavia Spencer) to tell her what it is like to work for these ungrateful white ladies.

The most astonishing witch of the bunch is Hilly Holbrook, who is so fantastically evil that she is like something out of a Disney movie -- Cruella de Vil on meth. Actress Bryce Dallas Howard inhabits this role as if her very life depends on it. She has a ditzy, half-mad mother played by Sissy Spacek and, of course, there is the neighborhood outcast, played by Jessica Chastain, who, because of her low status, is much nicer to her "inferiors."

I won't give up more plot details, but literally nothing surprised me in "The Help." All the big scenes one might expect are there.

I was torn. The movie is very prettified, and picture perfect in its period detail. Music from the era plays throughout. The serious issues of prejudice don't seem nearly as important as the decor. And yet I would be a big fat liar if I dismissed the brilliance of every actress on screen here. Viola Davis can express a resigned lifetime in a glance, Octavia Spencer is like an IV of Red Bull, Miss Howard's whispered villainy is reminiscent of Sian Phillips' Livia in "I, Claudius" and Emma Stone, known for her blonde sexiness and a few comedy roles, here inhabits a complex and driven character so totally that one searches in vain for the bikini-beauty of the cover of Vanity Fair. Sissy Spacek is a riot in her every appearance.

I'm on the ledge about recommending "The Help." I am in a distinct minority. Almost all reviews have been slavering raves for every aspect of "The Help" -- plot, script, acting. I couldn't agree more about the latter. So I am going to urge all those who love to see actors at their best, invested to the hilt, and honest in every emotion, to go see this film. Odds are you'll disagree with my squirming over the story.

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