Movie Review – The Help

I love summer hours Fridays!  I like getting off work early and either catching up on errands or just shamelessly wasting the time.  I’ve also used them to get a head start on a trip or other adventure.  I remember back in the early days at work, many years ago, that there was a summer or two that we worked 4-10s and had Friday’s off to conserve energy.  Well, we conserved energy, alright – there was a bunch of us (back then, a bunch was almost everyone who worked there) who would get up about the usual time, go to Mrs. Wenger’s for breakfast, and then go to Nancy’s house and spend the day by her pool eating, drinking, and soaking up the sun!  But, I digress…………

This past Friday, I got off work and ran a couple of errands.  Then, as I was headed home, I drove past the street that the movie theater is on and got the urge to see what time the next showing of “The Help” was.  I had planned to go see it last weekend, but it rained and I just didn’t bother.  So, I drove up to the poster wall and read that it started at 3:45.  I looked at my watch and it was 3:30 — PERFECT!  Without a thought, I pulled into a parking spot, got my ticket and popcorn, and went in to watch the movie.  As I waited for the movie to start, I thought about two things…….1) that this was the first time I’ve been to the theater since I fell in the one in Cary and cracked my rib and 2) that it is a great feeling to be able to just decide on the spur of the moment to spend the afternoon at the movies without having it interfere with anything important!  Aahh – life is good!

So, now for the review!  I’ll put it right out there…….I LOVED THIS FILM!!!  I downloaded the book onto my Kindle about a month ago, but haven’t gotten to it, yet.  I am now so motivated to hurry and finish the one I’m reading now so that I can read “The Help”.

The story is set in the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi (I spelled it out, instead of writing the abbreviation, cause I like saying in my head “M-I-crooked letter-crooked letter-I-crooked letter-crooked letter-I-humpback-humpback-I”).  It was an era where rich southern white ladies all belonged to the Junior League, volunteered their time for causes, and had “colored” maids.  Yes, they paid them a salary – after all, slavery had been abolished by then – but it was little more than a token wage to prove they were progressive.  The help, as they called them, raised their children, cleaned their homes, and cooked their meals.  But, remember, this was the deep south in the early 60s.  Life was different then – the civil rights movement was just beginning to gain momentum and national attention.  The movie sets the time by showing the characters watching TV reports of Medgar Evers giving a speech and then, later, the news of his murder right there in their own town of Jackson, Miss, as well as watching the funeral of President Kennedy.

The story finds a way to show humor in the lives of these women without degrading them or making light of the times they lived in.  It provides the perfect balance of humor with scenes that testify to the injustices and humiliation felt by the maids.  It shows the heart and soul and strength and fear of each and every character.  Some scenes found me crying and smiling at the same time, wondering which emotion was more appropriate to what I was watching.  The answer was – both!

Skeeter, played by Emma Stone, comes home from college at Ole Miss with dreams of being a journalist.  She gets a job at the local paper writing a housewife column that provides answers to questions submitted by her readers about how to keep from crying when peeling onions or the best way to get a stain out of their table cloth.  She knows NOTHING about these things because she was raised in a rich white home where there was a maid that did all that stuff.  But, she’s thrilled to get the job and thinks it is the first step to fulfilling her dream.  Her mother and friends think she’s silly for wanting to work and do their best to try to convince her that she should just find a man and get married and forget all this nonsense!

Skeeter strikes up a friendship with Aibileen (Viola Davis), one of her friend’s maids, to help her with her responses for the column.  She also begins to see the way the maids are treated – in particular when her friend Hilly, portrayed by Bryce Dallas Howard, announces that she’s drafted a “Home Health Sanitation Initiative” for the Governor to make it a law that all homes should be required to have a separate outside bathroom for the help because “they carry different diseases than we do”.  She pitches a story she wants to write to a NY publisher played by Mary Steenburgen.  The book will contain interviews and stories from the point of view of the maids.  She approaches Aibileen to start with.  Next, Aibileen’s friend Minny (Octavia Spencer) joins in.  The three women meet secretly to share their stories – no one can know because it would be extremely dangerous for Aibileen and Minny if anyone found out what they were doing and what they were telling Skeeter about!  The other maids are too scared to participate until a heart wrenching scene involving one of them gives them all the courage to “help with the stories”.  And the book is written and published with the author listed as “Anonymous”.

Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are wonderful as Aibileen and Minny.  Aibileen is the more mature, realistic one who just wants to tell her stories to help ease the pain of losing her son in a tragic death at the hands of white men.  Octavia is mischievous, “sass mouthed”, and proud.  She gets involved out of spite and, I think, just because she can!  The best testament to that is the scene where she tells Skeeter about the “terrible, awful thing” she does to Hilly after she fires her – I will never again eat a chocolate pie without thinking of that scene and the look on Hilly’s face!!!

Emma Stone is lovely and believable as Skeeter, a complex character who is self-reliant, opinionated, yet demure and shy all at the same time.  She finds it hard to swallow that “These women raise white children.  We love them and they love us.  But, they can’t even use the toilet in our homes.”  She wants to do something about it by bringing it out into the open while trying to protect the anonymity of the women who help her do it.

I also loved the two mother characters.  Sissy Spacek plays Mrs. Walters, Hilly’s mother.  Mrs. Walters is old and persnickity and Hilly treats her almost worse than she treats her maid, but she has spirit and I liked her!  Allison Janney plays Charlotte, Skeeter’s mother.  Charlotte is ill and frail, but still has some spunk and makes for a memorable character.  Another character I really enjoyed was Cecilia, played by Jessica Chastain.  Cecilia married one of the rich white boys after becoming pregnant – the boy just happened to also be Hilly’s ex-boyfriend.  Her character is fun and tries really hard to hide the inner pain from being the town outcast and personal tragedies.  She hires and quickly befriends Minny, who helps her through her heartache.

It was very hard for me to narrow down the characters I wanted to highlight in this review — they were all so interesting and believable and added depth to the story.

I rate this one a solid A++!  I’d love to see it again and can’t wait to read the book.  Plan a girls night out and go see this movie!  You won’t be sorry!  Take some tissues and be prepared to run the gambit of emotions!

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