Movie Review: The Help (2011)

Posted: April 16, 2012 in Drama
Tags: , ,

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In the 60’s, Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) has come home to Jackson Mississippi from college to become a writer.  She applies to Mr. Blackly (Leslie Jordan) and gets a job as a homemaking advice columnist.  Skeeter asks her friend Elizabeth’s (Ahna O’Reilly) maid Abileen Clark (Viola Davis) to help her with the advice column.  Skeeter’s mother Chalotte (Allison Janney) wants Skeeter to settle down and get married, but when Skeeter visits her mom she notices that their maid Constantine (Cicely Tyson) is gone, and he mom says Constantine moved of her own free will. Skeeter is devastated by the fact that the maid that raised her has left, and becomes interested in the undercurrent of discontent within the group of maids.  For example, one of Skeeter’s other friends, Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) refuses to let her maid, Minny (Octavia Spencer) use the bathroom in her house.  When Hilly finds out that Minny tries to use the bathroom in her house, Hilly fires her, Undaunted, Minny goes to another friend of Skeeter’s named Celia, (Jessica Chastain) and staters working for her.  Skeeter decides to write a book from the perspective of the maids, and enlists Abileen and Minny to tell their stories.  The other maids are too afraid to take part in the interview, until Medger Evers dies, then they all want to contribute to the book.  Does the book ever get published? Does the help get a measure of revenge?

I did not like this movie. The Help trivializes one of the most important turning points in our country’s history, namely the Civil Rights movement and turns it into something mundane, like a coffee klatch between gossipy bridge playing women.  And the denouement is so silly and sophomoric that it undermines the fact that people actually lost their lives in the fight for equal rights. The scary part is that some people in their twenties might think the civil Rights movement was settled by a bunch of women sitting around a coffee table instead of bus boycotts and freedom riders and church bombings. The only two allusions to the Civil Rights movement are the two deaths of civil rights leaders, one on the radio, the other on tv, and it makes those deaths seem so distant like they’re happening somewhere else in some other time.

This movie is filled with kind white women, except for one, who seem to love their maids and talk incessantly about dating and marriage and how this one stole the other one’s boyfriend and oh yes, blacks are second class citizens, and Jim crow is in full effect.  Oh yes, the kindly white women are more than ready to help the maids get their full equality.  THIIS is a Hollywood fairytale.  There’s enough tearjearking manipulative scenes in this movie to keep the Kleenex folk happy, but they are not based on any true emotion.  Emma Stone is good, but she and Bryce Dallas Howard bring a 2011 sensibility to a 1960’s movie.  The older actors, who should add a lot of gravitas, bring nothing, because their roles are inconsequential.  Sissy Spacek is a one joke character, Cicely Tyson has been playing these roles since the Autobiography of  Miss Jane Pittman. It’s 2012, can we please have a moratorium on black women playing maids and nannies?  Please?  Or at least make an honest movie about the bus  boycotts.

The Help, needs help with history.

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