Tuesday, December 06, 2011
The Help Cleans Up Some Messy Assumptions
Posted by Courtney Small
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+.