*You can feel the Mississippi heat bearing down as you watch “The Help,” to say nothing of the actual heat wave currently soaking the nation or coming soon to a theater near you.
But make no mistake: This is no easy, breezy summer movie.
That’s a great thing. While the best-selling book that inspired the film has been billed a beach read, its subject is serious — black maids speaking out about their treatment on the cusp of the civil rights movement — and the movie does the story justice. “The Help” will move you and make you burst out laughing. During a month known for forgettable flicks, it leaves a lasting impression.
Most of that is due to stellar performances. If anyone deserves a standing ovation this summer, it’s Viola Davis. She is unrecognizable as Aibileen, transformed into an aging black maid who desperately wants the true story of her profession to see the light of day. Her performance is stunning, the kind of spectacle that Oscar nominations are made of. (Davis scored one of those, along with a slew of other nods and awards, for 2008’s “Doubt.”)
Emma Stone sinks her teeth into her meatiest role to date as writer/rebel Eugenia, better known as Skeeter. Stone has put her stamp on many movies in the past year — “Friends With Benefits,” “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and “The Amazing Spider-Man,” scheduled for release next summer. She holds her own in “The Help,” pulling off Skeeter’s naivete and do-gooder sensibilities to a tee. Stone was already one of Hollywood’s brightest young actresses; this movie shoots her star a bit higher.