I don’t normally put out two posts in one day but I just had to give a quick shout-out to the movie I saw last night- The Help. It is without a doubt the best movie I have seen this year (I know that isn’t saying much because this has been a bad year for movies).
Naturally I have read the bestselling book by Kathryn Stockett. In fact, I have read it three times including once for book club. I enjoyed the book and loved the voices Stockett creates. She is a great writer. However, (and this may shock its die-hard fans) in some ways I actually thought the movie was better. That almost never happens, but I really think it did in this case. Let me explain
In the book there are 3 different narrators, white returning-college student Skeeter, near-retirement maid Aibileen, and a spunky maid named Minnie. Each chapter is told by one of the three narrators and while all are engaging, I found myself itching for the Aibileen sections. I loved her character and found her rich and textured in a way nobody else is in the book is.
This is where the movie gets it right- it does not follow the 1/3rd formula of the book and focuses much more on Minnie and Aibileen than Skeeter. It also helps that all of the performers (even the small parts such as Alison Janney as Skeeter’s mom) are terrific. My favorite was the woman who played Aibileen- Viola Davis. I had never seen her in a movie before and thought she was wonderful.
There are so many other good things about The Help. The sets are meticulous, the story is touching and hilarious at points and the tone is appropriate. Some of have criticized it as a soft treatment of civil rights. My argument to that is Why does everything have to he tough and gritty? What’s wrong with learning a lesson in a nice way? I would have a problem if no gritty films existed but they do in abundance. I think their is room for both types of teaching. In some ways I learn more when I’m not bowled over with horrific images that are almost too hard to absorb and take-in. A softer feel can give me room to analyze and wonder what I might have done in such a time as the Civil Rights Era.
Another very strong part of the movie (and my other favorite character in the book) is the scenes with Celia Foote. She is played by Jessica Chastain (another actress I had never seen before but who did a great job). Celia is a woman that is discriminated by both the blacks and whites because she is seen as promiscuous and back-woodsy. Unlike Aibileen and the other maids, Celia has no congregation to go to for acceptance, no group of similarly minded women to gab with. This makes her a very interesting character that the audience feels for and it made me wonder who I am excluding from my life because they are “too….fill in the blank”?
The main plot of The Help revolves around Skeeter convincing the maids to write a book about their perspectives raising white babies. Writing the book is illegal and dangerous but the construct of the book in both the novel and movie is just a vehicle for us to get to know the characters and to understand how prejudice and a lack of options in life has affected them.
Naturally there has to be a villain for this type of story to move along- Miss Hilly Holbrook- but she is the weakest part of the story. I wish Stockett had dared to create a white racist that was less cartoonish. This would challenge the reader/viewer even more. If Hilly had layers then we may respond to one of those layers and then process that response for our own character enhancement. At its current state Hilly can be discarded as a caricature unlike anyone we know. Still, somehow the character of Hilly bothered me less in the movie than in the novel. Not sure why but there you go!
I also felt in the book and movie that the side plot and subsequent big reveal involving Skeeter’s maid Constantine is underwhelming. However, it is laid out differently in the movie and the acting by Janney as the mother in these scenes is great. It brings a level of emotion not felt in the book. (Although in the book Constantine’s daughter is white which is the main part of the scandal. Not sure why they changed that?)
Those are small flaws (Did I also mention the wandering Southern accents the characters ALL have!). On a whole the movie is immensely entertaining. It is touching, funny and inspiring. The acting is superb all around and the entire feel of the film is perfect.
There is a little language- mostly involving a pie made with nefarious ingredients!
Aside from the pie, it is a clean film appropriate for most teens and young adults (there is also a scene involving a miscarriage which is appropriately graphic).
I highly recommend seeing The Help. It is a great movie and one of the best adaptations I’ve ever seen. Let me know what you think!