I thought this was kind of a must-see movie, but (as I type) it is only #20 on the 2011 box office list. However—and here's the funny part— even at #20, it is apparently the highest-grossing movie in 2011 that wasn't (a) a sequel, (b) a cartoon, (c) a superhero saga, (d) sci-fi epic, or (e) a comedy. So, on its own terms, it was quite successful.
It's set in early-60's Mississippi, with all that implies. It's a time of imminent racial upheaval, as the oppressive Jim Crow system in place for decades is about to be upturned. This is played out in the lives of three major characters: Skeeter, a young white woman returning home after college, with hopes of being a professional writer; Aibileen, a middle-aged house servant who's settled into the routine of cooking, cleaning, and taking care of white kids; and Minny, a younger servant who's more "uppity" and, as a result, has become near-unemployable.
Skeeter lands her first job with the local paper, writing a column answering readers' questions about cleaning, a subject about which she knows next to nada. She turns to the black "help" for advice, and begins to learn about their lives; eventually this opens her eyes to the nastiness of the racism around her. She decides to write a book containing stories of the black servant community called—guess what?—The Help. But all does not go smoothly.
It's very much a chick flick. All the major characters are female, and most of the supporting cast are too. (But at least they don't sing ABBA songs, and the plot is mostly not romance-driven.) The basic structure of the plot is surprise-free, the characters are more than slightly stereotypical. But everything is fleshed out well by good acting and screenwriting. The Association of Black Women Historians didn't like it, disagreeing with most critics.