The Help by Kathryn Stockett was on my “to read” list for ages – since January 13, 2010 if we’re being precise. Thank you,  I had heard good things about the novel and I think it was even a selection for my book club at one point. But I just never got around to reading it. And then the movie came out.

I got passes to a free screening of The Help through a friend at work. I saw the film in July, about a month before the studio’s wide release in August 2011. I didn’t really know what to expect. I liked Emma Stone in Easy A and I knew the novel had been popular, but I wasn’t overly familiar with the plot or characters. I hadn’t seen any trailers. I probably never would have seen the film in the theater if I hadn’t gotten free passes. I pretty much went into the theater with no expectations.

And I was blown away.

The film is so good. It’s funny and heart-breaking and witty and relevant and wonderful. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer turn in terrific performances. Emma Stone, Allison Janney and Jessica Chastain are also great. I’m not a huge fan of Bryce Dallas Howard, so it was a treat to see her in a role where it was not only fine, but actually encouraged, to hate her.

The character of Hilly is one of the weak spots in the film. You never get to see why Skeeter and Hilly would ever be friends in the movie, but in the book the background to their friendship is given a little more time and you understand just how hard it must have been for Skeeter to make the choices she did and turn her back on the life she had known for so long.

I still haven’t read the book, but I did just finish listening to the audio CD. I had caught a couple of chapters on SiriusXM Book Radio while commuting. Once I had those women’s wonderful, moving voices in my head, I couldn’t imagine finishing the book in any other way. Having Octavia Spencer do Minnie’s chapters was a delight. Some of the subplots in the novel didn’t make it to the big screen, and I think that’s just fine. All the important ones did make it. For the other subtle changes to the story, I understand why the filmmakers made the choices they did. In some ways, I prefer the film version. It’s a bit neater, not quite as sticky.

Bottom Line: Tate Taylor starts out with a great novel and makes it into an awesome film.