If you don't have plans to see this movie, you can check the spoilers here and then come back.
In the wrong hands, The Help could have been a very bad movie. The script (adapted from a novel) is chalk full of moments that could have been sappy or overwrought, and in the pursuit of an accurate depiction of racism in 1960's Mississippi, there are times they skirt being too on the nose. However, it's a testament to the great work done by director and crew plus the wonderful, wonderful acting that for the most part, the film avoids those pitfalls, and even when they don't, you're enjoying it too much to notice. Octavia Spencer stands out as Minny, working sass and vigor into not just into her lighter moments but the ones where she was projecting rage; I didn't just appreciate her performance, she made me really like Minny. Viola Davis does a perfect counterpoint to Spencer, with Aibileen as the quiet and restrained half of their duo whose probably explosion of emotion has you anticipating intensely; Davis has a pronounced dignity about her that was perfect here. Bryce Dallas Howard has never been better than here as Hilly, creating a villain whose misfortunes you can laugh at without her stature and hatefulness ever being diminished. Jessica Chastain had me laughing out loud as naive Celia, the redneck girl who marries into wealth, but she also provided some of the most powerful scenes. I'd actually say the only person who fell a little short for me was Emma Stone, which is surprising; Stone is always great, and very versatile, but I felt like she played Skeeter's quirkiness for laughs maybe a few too many times and that upset the flow of the narrative slightly. So many other great performances though, from Allison Janney to Cicely Tyson to Sissy Spacek and on; even the little girl who played Mae Mobley was fantastic. A real joy to watch--and given the subject matter, that feels strange to say, but it's how I feel--The Help lives up to the hype.