Movie Review: “The Help”

Written by Barfoot September 02, 2011

The movie “The Help”, directed by Tate Taylor, follows the female author Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan as she tries to forward her journalistic career. After being turned down by a publishing agency in New York, Skeeter gets a job in her hometown writing a cleaning advice column. However, having been raised in an atmosphere of Southern decadency, Skeeter has no knowledge of cleaning tips to boast of. Her maid having recently been let go, she asks a close friend if she can trouble her black maid to help her with the column. Once Skeeter gets a closer look into the way maids are treated by those she considers friends – or at the very least bridge partners – she has a revelation. The inspiration for the hard-hitting novel that will get her noticed and published by the New York publishing agency: an in depth look at the life of maids in 1960s Southern Louisiana.

Persuading the maids to take part in this undertaking proves difficult. Not only is it illegal, the mindset of most of the town makes it downright foolish for the maids to participate, and none of these maids are fools. Skeeter initially manages to persuade two maids to take part, and she begins to gather her stories. The stories are sometimes laughable, knowing the ludicrous secrets about their employers that the maids are privy to, but they are more often disturbing or appalling. Skeeter learns about the unbelievable hardships of the maids and in general the black community of the South. She also learns about the horrible treatment her two new confidants suffer at the hands of their female employers, people Skeeter considers friends.

I will not risk being cliché by saying that the film will make you laugh, and make you cry – but it does cover both of those bases. It has moments where the very sad reality that faced the coloured maids of this era shines through. To balance this out however, the general tone of the film is relatively light-hearted and humorous. At times these two disparate tones clash somewhat and stop the opposing moods from realizing their full potential. For the most part though they stop the film from tipping too far into cheesy, or getting too far into the gritty details.

 

I’m not sure how true to history this film was, but it definitely offered insight into a situation I personally thought very little about. Of course this was an unbelievably difficult time for an entire section of the American population, but this focus on just the maids of the Mississippi and their specific struggles was definitely enlightening. Viola Davis does an excellent job playing the role of the main black maid of the film, Aibileen Clark.  Octavia Spencer plays her best friend, Minnie Jackson, and is usually the one to provide the comic relief when the white women of the film are becoming infuriating. Skeeter, played by Emma Stone, is the one white character of the film that the audience can connect to. She becomes continually more judgmental of her white female friends the more she bonds with the women who are to become the characters in her novel. Besides having to write her dangerous novel in secret, Skeeter must also deal with an ailing and annoying mother who wishes only for Skeeter to find a nice man and get married. However, Skeeter is not considered conventionally good-looking and holds very different ideals than are seen as respectable in a lady.  Her personality and spunk, while not found attractive by the other characters, make her easy to like and connect with, while ensuring that not every white young female in the movie is either cowardly or atrocious.

The film covers some specific and intriguing issues that plagued the maids of the South, but still manages to make the characters into interesting people instead of simple race markers that move through the plot. It was a well-done and very moving film.

My Rating: 7.5/10

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