I went to the preview showing of this today and I thought it was a brilliant, thought-provoking film. Emma Stone was excellent as Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan, the frustrated journalist with a heart, but the main players for me were Viola Davis as Aibeleen Clark, Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson and Bryce Dallas Howard as the small-town and mealy-minded Hilly Holbrook. Bryce (who is probably best known as the replacement Victoria in Eclipse) was a really good bad gal who treats Minny and other less fortunate townsfolk with disdain. Viola brought real heart to her role as Aibeleen and feisty Minny (Octavia Spencer) gives us the most memorable scene in the film. The supporting cast were also exemplary: Allison Janney (Crystal in TVs Mr Sunshine), Anna Camp and Nelsan Ellis (both from TVs excellent True Blood), but for me it was Sissy Spacek (best known for Carrie) as Hilly's Mum who really excelled given her small role.
My daughter, who at 14 is fairly hard to please unless it involves Robert Pattinson, really enjoyed it too, though she did think it was really sad because of the way 'the help,' Cecelia Foote (comedically spot-on Jessica Chastain) and Minny (in this instance by her husband) were treated.
You will need to take plenty of handkerchiefs to mop up the tears at various points in the film (sometimes it was hard to hear the dialogue for all the sniffing) but the laughter, when it comes, is all the more powerful for it. I, for one, will never be able to look at a chocolate pie in the same way again.