Emma Stone – Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan
Viola Davis – Aibileen Clark
Octavia Spencer – Minny Jackson
Bryce Dallas Howard – Hilly Holbrook
Allison Janney – Charlotte Phelan
Jessica Chastain – Celia Foote
Sissy Spacek – Missus Walters
The Help focuses on three women from very different backgrounds. The movie opens with one woman sharing her story with another, and then we go back to watch the events unfold. Skeeter (real name Eugenia, so no wonder she goes by Skeeter) is a recent graduate of Ole Miss and wants to be a writer. She also happens to be white and from Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s. If you are unfamiliar with just how awful things were at that time, it would be hard for you to have some perspective on just how risky her endeavors were. We then get to know Aibilene, an African American maid who happens to work for one of Skeeter’s friends. Their friendship starts off with Skeeter asking for cleaning advice, since her first job is to write the housekeeping column for the local paper. But when Skeeter begins to see how horribly her supposed friends treat their maids, she gets another idea. To write about the women’s day to day lives, the terrible things their employers put them all through. Other maids are reluctant to share or even talk to Skeeter, but soon Minny comes around. And when a local woman is arrested, ten more women step up to share their own stories. The resultant book creates waves in Jackson, but because it is published anonymously, the white can only speculate.
My mom and I went to this, and she had read the book beforehand. I have not, mainly because I wanted a fresh approach when I went to the film (and partly because I’ve been reading everything else lately). She loved the adaptation and was so grateful that they were able to translate it so well to the screen. I loved the movie simply because it was so inspiring.
I grew up in the States, so I was taught American history, which in the 1990s, was pretty candid about the horrors African Americans faced in Jackson. In a lot of ways, I came to The Help thinking a lot of Matched or The Hunger Games. They were societies who needed change, but one person had to spark that fire, had to stand up and admit that something was wrong. You get to witness these three women come to the realization of just how awful the situation is, and you get to see them grow strong and stand up for what they deserve. Like those YA novels, they begin their journeys accepting what their life is, but by the end, they have learned that their dreams do not lie beyond their grasp as they once thought.
The marketing might have touted Emma Stone (Skeeter) as their star, but this movie belongs to Viola Davis (Aibilene) and Octavia Spencer (Minny). Skeeter’s growth is wonderful, but she already had so much sensitivity towards the subject that she doesn’t really change. She just begins to stand up for it more, to have less fear for the friendships that she has with these women. It is Aibilene and Minny that we enjoy watching. Aibilene because she finds the courage to light the fire with the match offered to her by Skeeter. And Minny for joining, for knowing how dangerous it is, and for fighting back.
The acting was superb. Emma Stone plays snarky in most of her movies, but she was scaled back here. Sure, Skeeter gets her moments, but Stone showed a new level that we have not gotten to see yet. Viola Davis was so understated that you forgot you were watching someone act. She embodied her character and made Aibilene her own. It was her character’s story that narrated the movie, and Davis did it justice. In a world where some actors think, “the bigger, the better,” it was wonderful seeing someone so personal. Octavia Spencer, however, really steals the show. Minny provides some comic relief, but she is so opinionated that you gravitate towards her. And when you watch Minny bond with her new boss Cecilia, you begin to really see a woman instead of a maid. It is all of these relationships that make up the movie, that drive the story, and that move you to tears (several times).
I will say that Allison Janney (who plays Skeeter’s ill mother) was fantastic, as usual. I have not seen a production that she’s been in that she wasn’t superb, though. You can tell that Charlotte wants to have these friendships with her maids the same as Skeeter, but cannot break free of what society expects. And Bryce Dallas Howard is the perfect villain. You leave that movie hating Hilly, just as the writer intends, and yet there is something so sad in her character as well. Perhaps it is her ignorance, her belief that she is not racist or cruel, but that you can see it so clearly. Like a cherry on top, we are given Sissy Spacek as Hilly’s mother. Though she is supposedly suffering from some sort of dementia, she can see how horrible her daughter has become. In the beginning of the movie, she constantly berates her daughter for her treatment of Minny, as Minny was really Missus Walters’ employee. Her arc is sad, but mostly serves as a reminder that not all of these women are terrible to the hired help.
All in all, a fantastic movie. There is a good reason it has been the #1 selling movie for 3 (?) weeks, and will continue to dominate. It is moving, inspiring, and thought-provoking. I want to pick up the book just so I don’t have to say goodbye quite yet.
Rating: 10/10 I seriously cannot find anything wrong with it. (Maybe the fact that Skeeter’s curly hair was frowned upon. I have curly hair, so that’s insulting. Yea, one thing. 😀 )