Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The Help Cleans Up Some Messy Assumptions

Despite my issues with, what I perceived the film would be, I agreed to sit down with the wife and finally watch The Help. Considering my wife (who we shall call Bookworm D) had already read the novel the film was based on, and I was approaching the film completely fresh, it only made sense that our latest edition of “In Conversation” would be The Help.

CS: Let me start by saying I did not hate the film the way I thought I would. One of the reasons I did not want to see the film was that I did not want to see yet another movie where the harshness of racism can only be told through the eyes of a white characters.

Bookworm D: True, but the film is nothing like that, having read the book I did not see it that way. It was clearly the maids' stories and Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone) was merely the pen that took everything down.

CS: Keep in mind, I went in thinking the film was going to be another The Blind Side, which is a film you enjoyed but I hated. While watching The Help it became evident that it was mainly the maids’ stories. To be honest I found Skeeter to be one of the least interesting characters in the film. Her story arc was not as compelling as the other non-maid characters in the film like Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) or Celia (Jessica Chastain). They were fascinating characters because they were at opposite ends of the social spectrum, one is trying to get in while the other is trying to maintain the status quo with an iron grip. Which leads me to my first question, what did you think of the multiple stories in the film?

Bookworm D: I was fine with them. There were some things that were missing from the book, while not essential to the film, would have been nice to see play out. I did find Celia to be the most interesting character partly due to the fact that, in a time where African-Americans could not fit in anywhere, we are seeing a white person struggling to fit in. That was interesting in both the book and the movie.

CS: Celia was one of the characters I really enjoyed, but there were too many stories. Not only was the film longer than it needed to be, but not every story need to be told. I would have been content with just focusing on Hilly, Celia, Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer). The stuff with Skeeter and her mom, Skeeter’s love arc, the maid and the ring, etc. all could have been summed up in a line or two.

Bookworm D: That is more a problem with the movie than the actual story. In the book all those things that you had issue with were expanded on. So for me, I was thinking ‘hey, something is missing’, while you were thinking ‘some needs to be cut’. For example, the story of Skeeter and her mother is much richer in the novel. As is the story with the maid and the ring, it makes for a more well rounded story in the book. I agree that the love story is a little weak in both versions but it is something women want to see, especially on film.

CS: I disagree with that last point. One of the things I enjoyed about The Help was seeing a film about women that has crossover appeal. It was great seeing a film with an all female cast that was not primarily about “trying to get a man” or “what type of designer shoes they are wearing”. This film is about all these various women coming to the realization of who they want to be, and who they are. The husbands are practically non-existent for the most part, the women are running the show. You do not need that whole “validation from a man” that is essentially what the love arc implies.

Bookworm D: The love arc does two things, the first being that it gives Skeeter a chance to demonstrate that being pretty is not a goal you strive for. Her whole life she has been taught that beauty is important in getting a boyfriend, yet she never stopped to ask herself if the boyfriend is worthy of getting her. The second thing it does is it shows that not only the maids have to deal with the fallout from the book, but Skeeter must also endure backlash in ways she did not expect.

CS: Though I must say you just reminded me of something that irked me a bit. The consequences that Skeeter endures is nothing compared to what the maids will have to face the rest of their lives. She has a chance to get out while the maids are stuck in that awful climate. Sure Aibileen and Minny are a little prouder than they were at the beginning, but life is still rough.

Bookworm D: You cannot fault the film for that though; it is merely a reality of the time they were living in.

CS: I just wonder if the film will have a lasting effect on people once they finish watching it. Sure it makes you think about history for two hours, but will people really think about the issues raised in the film an hour later? Or is it merely a film that features great actresses giving great performances?

Bookworm D: It will be memorable for me having read the book. Knowing the background information on the characters really enhanced my overall enjoyment of the film. Will it be memorable for the masses? Probably not, but I am sure it will touch a few people.

CS: I will say that I did enjoy the film on the whole. I did not “love it” per say, but I did find myself getting caught up in the story despite my reservations. I would give it a B-.

Bookworm D: I liked the film as well, though I would probably just pick up the book again rather than go back and watch the film. There was just too much left out, which is often the case with adaptations, still I would give it a B+.


  1. It's happening again. Just like Melancholia, we are exactly on the same page again. I agree with almost everything you said here.

  2. I liked this film mainly because of the ensemble cast;s performances, but I do think it did run on a bit too long for my liking. Good review right here.

  3. Loved this back and forth! A great read.

    I have to say that the love story really was highly unnecessary and a part I felt that was very weak in the film. Didn't like it in the movie.

    But I did like the film very much! This review was a very entertaining read! Thank you.

  4. @SDG – I guess great minds think alike. LOL. I will be sure to give your post a read this afternoon.

    @Dan O – The film could have definitely used tighter editing. It did not need to be as long as it was.

    @Scarletsp1der – Thanks we will try to include a few more of these types of reviews in the future.

    As for the love story, it really did feel out of place. I think the film would have been just as effective without it.

  5. nice little writeup. i really disliked the film. it was too long, the main character was bland, and mainly because i felt the subject matter was often handled in a slapstick kind of way. viola davis was the only one who got to the heart of the matter. i think the ending with her is why the film has become a crowdpleaser.

  6. @MrJeffery – It is interesting that you got a slapstick vibe from the film. Looking back, I can see how it could be interpreted that way. I agree that the ending, especially the stuff at the church is probably what hooked the masses.

  7. I hesitated on watching the movie, but bit the bullet last night. I thought it was good, but not great.

    I was expecting it to be really simplistic and for the most part it was, but I was also expecting it to be really preachy and for the most part it was not.

    The vibe I got with the whole "Skeeter has a boyfriend" subplot was that it was the writer's way of telling us that she wasn't a lesbian. They even had her mother try to address it with her. Where she was going to be moving to New York anyway, I didn't see her boyfriend leaving her as anything that wasn't going to happen anyway.

    On a side note, I could have done without seeing yet another appealing actress smoking on screen. Yes, more people smoked back then, but it had absolutely nothing to do with Emma Stone's character one way or the other. I could have done without that and with a whole lot less of the pie discussion.

  8. @Chip Lary – I liked that the film did not come off as preachy as well. In fact, I would have been very offended had it gone the preachy route. The smoking did not even register for me. I guess I have just become so use to seeing women smoke in film.

  9. @CS - Some guys have a smoking fetish; I have whatever the opposite of that is. It's a huge turnoff for me. Even though I know in my head that a large majority of actresses smoke in real life, as long as they don't do it on screen I can remain ignorant of it. And yes, some people only smoke for a role, but in those cases, is it really pertinent to the character or does the director just have a smoking fetish? (i.e. Craig Brewer with Black Snake Moan.)

  10. I don't have much interest in the film or book but I am interested in the controversies and discussions they have sparked. It was informative to read your conversation about it, it's more positive than some other articles I've seen!

  11. @Alex - I heard a lot of negative things about the film prior to seeing it. Honestly, it is not that bad of a film. I would not say that you need to see it or anything, but I did not find it to be a waste of time either.

  12. Phips5:01 am

    Just watched this..thought I'd see what all the oscar hype was about.

    Well, no idea why this is up for Best Pic..guess they needed to round out the nominee pool.

    However, I do see why both Viola and Octavia are nominated and have been winning. I do think both will win at the Oscars. I wonder if Meryl will swoop in and steal the statue from Viola..its possible. or me, though, Octavia was waaayy better than Viola.
    That being said, that actress that made the movie for me was Jessica Chastain. She was fantastic and an absolute delight for the entire film. In my opinion she's just on the cusp of a huge, successful acting future. Tree of Life, The Help, Take Shelter (and The Debt) all in one film season? Girl knows how to pick em and she was great in the 3 that I saw (TH, TS, and TD). I hope she does well as she's quickly becoming a fav. of mine.
    BDH was good too..when it started I thought she was Chastain for a moment. the 2 look eerily similar. I got confused when trying to figure out which one was in ToL when my dad asked me. Anyways, BDH was good as the snobby, racist bi**h. Emma Stone..well, it was good to see her break away from roles like Superbad, Easy A, and even Crazy Stupid Love and go for something more serious.

    All that being said..the film was decent but it was more about great acting than anything else. It did kinda make me re-realize how bad things were (and kinda still are in places).

    Film couldve been cut down by 10-20 min easily.


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