Film: The Help
Cast includes: Emma Stone (Zombieland), Viola Davis (Doubt), Bryce Dallas Howard (Lady in Water), Octavia Spencer (Seven Pounds), Jessica Chastin (The Tree of Life), Allison Janney (The West Wing), Sissy Spacek (In the Bedroom), Cicely Tyson (Fried Green Tomatoes)
Director: Tate Taylor (Pretty Ugly People)
Genre: Light Drama based on a book by Kathryn Stockett (2011)
When Eugenia, aka Skeeter, returns to Jackson Mississippi after college, she’s not looking for a husband… she wants to start a career as a journalist. And fortunately, there’s an opening at the Jackson Journal… “Oh Christ, I guess you’ll do,” the editor tells her and hands her a pile of letters. They need someone to write the "Miss Myrna" column, giving answers to readers’ housekeeping questions. Housekeeping questions will be a stretch for Skeeter, who, like all the society gals in Jackson, was raised by a colored maid who took care of all the housekeeping duties. Skeeter’s best friend has a maid named Aibileen, and Skeeter believes Aibileen can be her Miss Myrna.
Skeeter’s lifelong girlfriends are completely bewildered by Skeeter’s lack of focus on the important things in life… like finding a husband. And what kind of Jackson socialite would be asking a colored maid for advice, anyway? Aibileen isn’t eager to be talking with Skeeter because she knows her place. Once she’s raised white children, her relationship with them is over… there’s no reason for colored women to be talking with whites except to be getting housekeeping instructions. For some reason (that isn’t all together clear in the movie), Skeeter doesn’t quite share her friends’ point of view on a lot of things. And in the back of her mind is a suggestion she got from an editor at Harper Row about writing something and submitting it. Before long Skeeter begins to realize that white people don’t have a clue what it’s like to be the help… and she believes this is a topic worth writing about.
The Help gets high marks for acting and story development, and it’s a very satisfying movie on many levels. But it’s also a Disney style interpretation of a very ugly era in our nations history, which doesn’t sit well with some moviegoers. Even though the film tries to honor the African-American characters, it’s the white characters who are at the center of the narrative. At its best, you can say the film is a poignant telling of a struggle that affected all of us. At its worst, you can say it’s a sugarcoated retelling of black history with a white heroine at the center. At its best, it’s a story about shallow-minded bigots getting what’s coming to them. At its worst, you can say it makes light of a subject that shouldn’t be made light of. But that said… it’s packed with many meaty morsels. When Skeeter talks with the editor at Harper Row about her book idea, she’s told to write it fast “before this whole civil rights thing blows over.” Yes, it’s true… in the 1960s there were many who thought it would just blow over.
3 popped kernels
Both shallow and sugarcoated, as well as, astute and thought-provoking… a skillfully developed narrative
Primary Audience: Young adults
Gender Appeal: Any audience
Distribution: Mainstream wide release
Mood: Both upbeat and somber
Tempo: Cruises comfortably
Visual Style: Nicely varnished realism
Character Development: Engaging
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Pure entertainment & Thought provoking