“You know Hilly, if I didn't know any better, I'd say you've been eating too much pie.”
It’s 1962, and Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan has just returned back home after four years of college, looking for a writer’s job as well as her beloved maid, Constantine. When she is informed that Constantine decided to move in with her daughter Rachel, it didn’t make sense to Skeeter. She also could tell that her parents were keeping something from her. Her friends are now grown and having babies of their own. Now they have black maids to help raise their children as well as cook and clean their homes. She rejoins her friends one day for a game of bridge at her old friend Hilly’s home. Skeeter had just come back from an interview at the local newspaper, and getting the position as writing the column answering questions about housekeeping. She asked her friend Elizabeth if she could speak with her maid Aibileen about helping her answer some of these questions that people send in to the column. Elizabeth was put out by this request, but agreed. Hilly is a part of a local political branch of the Democratic Party called the White Citizens Council of Mississippi. Her proposal has been smiled upon by the Democrats in power, an initiative for all white homes with colored maids to build a separate bathroom for the maid, as black folk carry different diseases that hurt white people.
When Skeeter heard Hilly’s brazen demeanor, speaking openly about her initiative in front of the help, she had got the idea to write a book from the black people’s point of view about working in white people’s homes and raising white babies. The maids are reluctant at first for fear of repercussions from the KKK and like minded people. But when the race relations just seem to go from bad to worse, they do come one by one to talk with Skeeter. In New York City, Skeeter had been speaking with her contact at a publishing company, who will let her know if she’ll publish the book. Hilly and a select few of her followers watch for any kind of insurrection that would upset the status quo for which they enjoy their power.
Tate Taylor’s film version of Kathryn Stockett’s novel of the same name is a real winner of a film. Surprisingly, for me the facts surrounding the circumstances were very accurate, especially for a fictitious story. The horrors of racism in places like Mississippi were acceptable behaviors by both races to a point. The sad fact is that Mississippi hadn’t officially abolished slavery until 1995. At one point Emma Robert’s character, Skeeter is reading the Mississippi laws on the books stating that any person, black or white, if they speak aloud about racial equality and along these lines, it could mean imprisonment for that person. That is very scary to live in a society where evil must be tolerated at such a level just in order for certain people not to be voted out of office. Now, as I have made this first paragraph pretty political, it should be pointed out that The Help doesn’t get political at all. There is no finger pointing here, most likely because it was the Democrats in power at the time, and Hollywood, and people like producer Chris Columbus wouldn’t stand for that. Yet, I think the message comes across for those who know their American history. Hilly (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) is heard saying one of Woodrow Wilson’s slogans “Separate, but Equal”, and there is talk about the KKK blowing black people up just because they tried to go and vote. Back in 1962, the governor of Mississippi was a well known segregationist named Ross Barnett, a despicable politician who would have backed Hilly’s disturbing initiative all the way.
Emma Roberts is the one white heroine in the film who works alongside Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, who played the two brave black maids who were the first to speak out on the subject. Octavia Spencer was a pleasure, an actress who made you believe that there was only so much she could take. Even when it comes to her abusive drunken husband, there was a limit. Viola Davis seems to be everywhere all of the sudden, in this year I have reviewed three films (including this one) that she’s been in recently. Of course Emma Roberts has been everywhere for a few years now, just this week I have enjoyed two great films starring Roberts. Sissy Spacek plays Hilly’s mother, a confused woman brought on by senility, yet she doesn’t have the heart of a racist, so where’d Hilly learn it from? I believe that the movie goes on to show that the people mostly interested in segregation were those in power, and when Hilly had a taste of power, it darkened her heart as well as someone like Ross Barnett’s.
The film takes on a serious subject in a dangerous time and place, yet there was plenty of levity. Between the senility of Sissy Spacek’s character, the sassy mouth and comical looks from Octavia Spencer’s character and some of the dialogue, this film forced me to laugh, and the sad stories brought me to tears. A film without an emotional payoff is not a very good movie in my opinion, and this movie delivers in spades. The movie was rated PG-13, but there were no f-bombs dropped, there was nothing sexual and aside from the overt racism, it’s a good film to sit down and watch with the family. I was more than pleasantly surprised as I try to avoid the “white Christians are the devil” movies as much as I can, and I am so happy that this is not that kind of movie at all. All this film does is promote truths, and that’s all we can ever ask for.
Directed by: Tate Taylor (Pretty Ugly People)
Written By: Kathryn Stockett (Made In Hollywood), Tate Taylor (Pretty Ugly People)
Starring: Emma Roberts (The Rocker, Crazy Stupid Love, The House Bunny), Viola Davis (It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), Octavia Spencer (Dinner For Schmucks, Drag Me to Hell, Halloween II), Sissy Spacek (Carrie, Four Christmases, An American Haunting) Bryce Dallas Howard (The Twilioght Saga: Eclipse, Spider-Man 3, Hereafter), Allison Janney (Lost, Private Parts, Finding Nemo)
Length: 146 minutes
Released: August 10th, 2011
Rated: PG-13 (racism, some language, violence)
Rating: 4 stars
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Movie Mood: Family Movie
Film Completeness: Looked complete to me.
Worst Part of this Film: Nothing