Kathryn Stockett's novel The Help is the basis for the new film The Help. It tells the story of several white women who employ black maids in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s. The film purports to tell it like it was but for one who grew up in the South during these times, it doesn't provide a full picture.
The main character in this movie is Aibilene (Viola Davis). She is the daughter of a maid and the granddaughter of a slave. She has helped raise seventeen children for her various employers. Presently she is working for a woman named Elizabeth (Ahna O'Reilly) who is in the social circle with Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), a bigoted, mean-spirited woman who controls her little group.
There is one person in her group who doesn't go along with Hilly's vile nature and that is Skeeter Phalen (Emma Stone). She is more enlightened as to racial matters, and is embarrassed by Hilly's treatment of "the help." She comes up with a plan to collect the stories of Aibilene, her best friend Minny (Spencer), and other maids. This will show their viewpoint, something that has never been done before. It will be a dangerous venture because of the times but Skeeter is determined to get it done and she gets full support from Aibilene and Minny.
The three outstanding actors in the film are Davis, Spencer and Howard. Davis and Spencer's performances are obviously first rate but Howard's is more subtle. She expresses Hilly's black heart through actions as well as words. You get it in a raised eyebrow or a turn of her lips. You obviously come away from the film remembering Davis and Spencer but Howard's performance is also unforgettable.
The Help does raise up a mirror for us southerners to see some of the terrible things that occurred during these times, but it never reflects the real tragedies that were endemic to our lives at that point. We get the rudeness and slurs that were cast on these women who were more a part of our lives than other members of our families. At that time we shut our eyes and closed our ears and prided ourselves on not being bigots like our friends were.
Now we have a movie that shows us a soft pedaled version of the hatred and the bullying that existed. In The Help it is all tied up with a neat bow that shows it all worked out anyway. At least that seems to be the point the movie is trying to make.
The Help is beautifully acted but woefully lacking in reality. Maybe it serves a purpose of some sort and I just missed it but the sixties I remember were not this sane.
I scored The Help a serviced 7 out of 10.