I really wasn’t looking forward to watching The Help. The people in my life who told me they loved it are the same ones who adored The Blind Side, and that movie is the most treacly piece of shit ever. Look at all the good Christian, hard-working white people, helping this poor black man! It made me want to punch something for being so simplistic and bashing me over the head with how awesome the Tuohy family was (I can’t stand the way their name is spelled. It makes me twitch). I was expecting much of the same from this film, even though it’s based on a book by Kathryn Stockett that people I trust have told me is wonderful. Now that we have all of my preconceived notions out of the way, I have to say I was really surprised at how much I liked this film.
Emma Stone, as much as I want to hate her, is just so damn adorable. I think it’s built into the human DNA code to find her charming and appealing. I didn’t know awesome her character, the independent lady and free-thinker, Regina “Skeeter” Phelan, would actually be.
The story starts with Skeeter getting home from college, and realizing that all of the gals she grew up with suck. They’re super-WASPy, judgmental to the nth, self-congratulating young wives and mothers, who spend their days playing bridge and gossiping with friends, while leaving their children with the hired help, who at this point in our shitty history, are pretty much “paid” slaves. Skeeter is eager to start a career as a writer, and decides, after watching her friends humiliate and chastise the women they’ve hired to raise their children, that she’d like to write a story from their point of view. Being that this is the early 60s, this is a highly dangerous (and illegal) activity, and none of the beleaguered maids want anything to do with her.
I have to say that it was really hard to stomach watching some of the events that took place. Yes, some things were glossed over, or “Blind-Side-ified”, if you will (Skeeter’s mom’s cancer, the Medgar Evars assassination), but overall, you get a good idea of what it was like to be a maid in the civil rights era. You work in a nice home, you fucking RAISE and love these children, and are demeaned, scolded, framed for shit, and not allowed to use the same bathroom as the rest of the family. You have to go outside, or, if you’re lucky, to a sparse stahl that’s just for the maid, because people claim that you carry disease. However, they let you bathe, snuggle, hold, kiss, comfort, feed, and change the diapers of their CHILDREN. It’s horrifying. It made me nauseous.
This film would have been nothing without its cast, and they carry the film and story with a fiery grace. I want to say right now that I want Viola Davis to win the Best Actress Oscar SO BADLY. Her Aibileen carried so much pain and grief in her face and posture, the way she mourned the tragic loss of her son, the way she withstands the unending injustices around her, the way she just carries on, day in and out. Octavia Spencer is wonderful as the spirited Minnie, who (SPOILER!) actually feeds her own shit to Bryce Dallas Howard’s insipid, vile, and hateful Hilly Holbrook (I have to say I always hate the names in old southern stories, sorry M’lynn and Ouiser – I love you guys but I just can’t). I’ve also gotta mention the newcomer who is blowing up, Jessica Chastain. She just owned her part – Celia Foote, the ditzy girl everyone loves to hate, ostracized from the group, and suffering miscarriage after miscarriage, your heart just breaks for her.
I was made to feel all the emotions I figured I would, but the aces cast helped elevate what could have been a cornball-fest, or lighter take on racism (which is how the whole marketing scheme portrayed the film to look), to a damn good movie. I know it’s not gonna take home the Academy Award for best picture (and I don’t think it should), but it will make you laugh, cry, and continue to question the fucked up, shitty things we’ve done to our fellow humans throughout history.