Tate Taylor’s adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help filled me with a wonder similar to that I felt watching—and relishing—Mad Men. There, the three-martini lunch, the 1960 men and women boozing and smoking themselves to death had me aghast. Same here. This was Jackson, Mississipi, fifty years ago? It’s beyond racism, unless racism means considering people so far below you that no one would blink at an African-American maid not being allowed to use the bathroom in the house of the white folks she works for or be considered to have any feeling, life, emotion, or dignity at all. We forget how it used to be, which is bad, but we also see that this country, and the world, has come a long way.
One good reason among others to see The Help is its tremendous cast; Emma Stone is Skeeter, the main character, who graduates from Ole Miss and comes home with not only the dream of getting married but that of becoming a writer. Viola Davis is Aibileen, the maid who, along with Octavia Spencer as Minny, opens her heart and her life experience to the aspiring writer. Other roles are filled to perfection by Bryce Dallas Howard as the nasty Hilly, Sissy Spacek as the mother, Mary Steenburgen and others, once again making the case for adding an Academy award for ensemble casts.
That said, the usual reservations of book adaptation into movies cannot be escaped. There is far less context of segregation, civil rights, and timidly awaking consciences in the movie adaptation than in Sockett’s tremendously successful novel.
On the whole, the movie tones down much of the blatant racism visible in the book and in its scrubbing and cleaning up of the darker or more emotional episodes, turns the story into one of female bonding and that triumph of the forces of good over darker ones which the feel-good American cinema is so fond of. Still, it’s excellent entertainment and powerfully acted.
NOW OUT ON BLU-RAY