In his New York Press review of The Help, Armond White says that the film is grounded in the tradition of Hollywood moviegoing and entertainment: escapism. It is not a reality-based drama.
As a piece of entertainment, The Help succeeds where Tyler Perry's For Colored Girls failed: this comic melodrama is geared to please a broad audience by contrasting the experiences of black and white women in 1960s America, just before the Civil Rights Act and the popularity of feminism. Sisterhood is shown as a circumstance of different but shared sacrifices based on gender, but controlled by race and class.
These secret relationships are exposed when Southern belle and aspiring journalist Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) writes a memoir-confessional featuring stories told by the black women of Jackson, Miss., that reveal how middleclass white women promote a system that constrains them while they, ironically, keep underclass black women in penury as maids, cooks and wet nurses — "the help."
The title phrase evokes Faulkner's axiom "the keeper of our conscience." Whereas For Colored Girls was an ordeal of suffering that excluded white women's experience, The Help sentimentalizes all female fortitude, delighting, Fried Green Tomatoes-style, in the perseverance of Aibileen (Viola Davis), who boasts, "Looking after white babies, that's what I do"; her best friend Minny (Octavia Spencer), a legendary cook; and lastly, but centrally, Skeeter.
Read Armond White's entire review in the New York Press.